All eyes are on 27 November, Black Friday. Asda was one of the first big UK retail names to throw its weight behind the idea that the post-Thanksgiving US retail event could work on this side of the pond. Now it’s the first (for the time being only to be precise) major UK retailer to turn its back on the event.
Will others follow suit? Almost certainly. But it remains to be seen who and when. Others are bound to have been asking themselves why they are rushing headlong toward huge discounts, pressures on websites, in-store chaos and the accompanying safety concerns, logistics meltdowns … hardly the kinds of thing a retailer ought to go about seeking.
A number of eDelivery readers contacted us to share their thoughts on the Asda Black Friday u-turn, what lies behind such a decision, and what it might mean for others in the retail sector. Here are a collection of some more of their opinions. Broadly speaking, almost no one we heard from thought Asda was wrong to back away from Black Friday, which in itself is interesting as it would hint at a lack of enthusiasm for the event all across our industry.
Ben Latham, head of digital strategy at Summit:
“I wasn’t surprised to hear Asda had pulled out of this year’s Black Friday. The whole premise of Black Friday is a single day sale, which moves away from Asda’s core message of everyday low value. They might have found it doesn’t even create value for the business; instead it prevents normal shopping on the day and has a negative impact on their daily business.
“Consumers are increasingly promiscuous, especially through digital channels, as it is easy to sit on the sofa and hunt for the best deals on a laptop or smart phone. The real reputational risk, which all retailers face, is going ahead with Black Friday without complete confidence that the logistical and physical infrastructure it has in place will stand up to the unnatural influx of demand it creates.
“In terms of the impact on this year, most retailers have already committed to Black Friday, including negotiating deals with suppliers, so I don’t expect this to have a big knock on effect. However, by pulling out, Asda has made a bold statement and this could have an impact on next year if other retailers are brave enough to follow.”
Jason Tavaria, head of direct, Shutl:
“It is a busy season, and condensing what are some of the busiest days a retailer faces into one single day is not an effective way to balance customer service and increasing profits. Black Friday demand doesn’t just affect one day, but has a negative effect for the days prior and just after. John Lewis has already scaled back and I think you will find some others following suit.”
Julie Ashworth, chairperson at Clear Returns:
“Only time will tell if promotions, such as Black Friday, have a positive impact on profits but by making decisions based on data, retailers are in a better position to make the best of the crucial peak trading period.
“As a US owned business, Asda was instrumental in starting the frenzy in the first place. The move shows it is listening to its customers who might rather have year round offers and not be held hostage to one day.
Stuart Rivett, managing director of B2C Europe:
“Retailers that have traded below expectations during the summer are “throwing” everything at Black Friday Week in an attempt to get the sales back on track. This is a good opportunity to do so but they need to make sure they are able to handle the customer demand when it comes to the logistics. We recommend that retailers create a strategic logistics operation and work with multiple carriers, rather than expecting one carrier to handle the influx of orders. It is important to set customer expectations correctly. Do not over promise on delivery timescales and be realistic when it comes to estimated arrival times.
“It is inevitable that suppliers will encounter problems as there is simply not enough capacity in the UK distribution networks to handle the volume of orders. It will pay to be as prepared as possible for the delays as well as the possibility of customer complaints and inquiries.”
Mike Danby, CEO of Advanced Supply Chain:
“Black Friday 2014 pushed big brand retailers’ logistics operations to the brink, and indeed some really did buckle under the pressure. It’s a bold move to step back from one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and Asda seems to believe it’s truly what its customers want, but logistical pressures will have also been considered within that decision. If there is any failure in a supply chain around Black Friday, the potential impact on customer experience is considerable.
“Every retailer will blink as to its own Black Friday plans now Asda has called time-out. Huge operational pressures are applied in the days surrounding Black Friday, and logistics professionals at the big brand retailers need to be supremely confident in their arrangements and have meticulously planned for every eventuality.”