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EDITORIAL Black Friday – boom or bust, bonanza or busted flush?

With an election underway, we are surrounded by predictions, polls and ‘experts’ trying to predict the future. The same applies to Black Friday.

As the political pollsters tend to sell the hope that the party they want will win, so too do the experts outlining just what is in store for Black Friday next week.

Of course, no one knows what will happen – if I had that power, I wouldn’t be working here; I wouldn’t be working full-stop – but we can, by doing something of a poll of polls have a stab at what this year’s peak season may shape up to be.

The thing that stands out most of all is that Black Friday polarises opinion. According to research by PwC, just over half (52%) of UK consumers are either interested or plan to buy something during Black Friday – meaning 48% aren’t (urgh, it’s Brexit all over again).

That said, PwC also predicts that UK shoppers also plan to spend around 11% more than last year, an average of £224, as the global retail event hits the high street at the end of this month. This backs up breathless findings from and the Centre for Retail Research (CRR), that suggests that there will indeed be increased spending this year – they say by 3.4% – making for an astonishing £8.57bn in sales across the four days to Cyber Monday, and equating to an average of £2.48m each minute of the weekend.

Compare that to PwC’s ‘other’ findings, which find that, of those in the UK likely to spend less this year, almost a third believe that the deals aren’t exciting, while 20% believe that deals aren’t actually genuine.

Under 25-year olds are particularly unimpressed by Black Friday, with the lowest projected spend of just £111, an 11% decline on last year.

There is also a strong argument that, in the UK at least, there is going to be a shift away from store shopping on Black Friday weekend, with more moving online. According to a study from Genesys, 74% of UK consumers won’t hit High Street for Black Friday offers, with more than half saying they never shop in-store during the sales event.

Then there is the issue of sustainability. According to both PwC and new research also out this week by Gumtree, 58% of British shoppers are expected to ignore Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this year – reducing spend by a huge £805 million collectively – and one of the main reasons is a rise in conscious consumers.

It suggests that almost one in two (45%) say they want to avoid unnecessary purchases and over a quarter (26%) of Britons saying their spending less so as not to contribute to mindless consumerism (maybe we will get Corbyn’s socialist utopia on 13 December). Nearly one in ten (9%) are actively avoiding the sales in order to be more sustainable.

On the face of it, then, Black Friday has the potential to be a red-letter day for retail – a much needed one – or it may not. It’s like the election polls: Boris could romp home, or on 13thDecember we may wake up to Corbyn’s socialist utopia and free broadband.

What is interesting is overseas attitudes to Black Friday. According to PwC’s data, which comes from a survey that also charts the opinions of consumers in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and South Africa, UK consumers are increasingly cynical about Black Friday deals. Consumers in every other country are more enthusiastic about Black Friday than the UK, with over 80% of those in France (81%), Ireland (84%) and South Africa (88%) either interested or planning to buy something.

This is interesting as, with domestic retail growth slow, to say the least – IMRG saw much needed growth in October, but still, it was the worst October numbers on record – there is a growing interest in overseas markets for growth. And Europe is a key target.

While Brexit may currently be clouding what opportunity Europe may turn out to be, right now it is a lucrative – and growing – market for UK ecommerce businesses. Figures from PPRO and Edgar Dunn & Company show a 90% growth in 2018 in this year’s annual Payment Almanac. Within Europe, Hungary came out on top with 11% growth from 2017 to 2018, among local consumers shopping cross-border.

Similarly, there is a growing interest in UK goods online in both Russia and the US. Global Blue’s data has revealed that American international shoppers have demonstrated a 25% rolling three-month progression in tax free spend whilst Russian international shoppers have increased their tax-free spending by a rolling three month progression of 12%.

So, while there is going to be an up-tick in sales in the run up to Christmas, kicked off, hopefully, by a successful Black Friday weekend, it pays to look at how expansion overseas may, ultimately, be where growth needs to come from.

With Black Friday in the UK becoming something that almost half the consumer population claim to be ambivalent about, it pays to not be too wedded to it as the way to drive sales. Perhaps, as the UK looks to retrench its international standing, it is time for retailers to look overseas to grow?

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