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PEAK 2021 Uncertainty marks this year’s Black Friday peak trading event

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Today we’re looking ahead to Black Friday 2021 in a year that’s marked by more uncertainty than usual. This year there are questions about whether shoppers will spend as much this year as they did last year – when non-essential retailers were forced to close in Covid-19 lockdowns.

Some analysis, such as this from suggests shoppers will spend less than last year, while others including Wunderman Thompson Commerce suggest shoppers will spend much more. 

If shoppers spend less over the Black Friday weekend, then it may in part be because retailers this year appear to have started offering Black Friday discounts earlier, according to analysis out last week from IMRG, which suggested that more retailers were live with deals in the early weeks of November than at the same time last year, while last week there were fewer deals than at the same time last year.

Further uncertainty is added by the ongoing supply chain crisis and skills shortages, which raise questions about whether retailers have secured the stock to run large Black Friday events – and how confident they can feel in their delivery promises this year. At the same time, shoppers may well have bought early in order to make sure they have the presents they want – or may be saving their cash in the face of rising concern around inflation, and in particular energy prices. 

Nonetheless, this week is expected to be the biggest week of the peak trading season in the run up to Christmas. An IMRG poll has suggested that more retailers and brands would launch Black Friday events this week than in any other week of November, with 33% of 60 retailers polled naming this date. 

Amazon hosts Black Friday Live 

Among them is Amazon, whose Black Friday deals went live over the weekend at the beginning of a 10-day event. The retailer, ranked Elite in RXUK Top500 research, is hosting a Black Friday Live  event this year, starting on Thursday and running every day until Sunday November 28. The event runs both online and in-person – for those who reserve limited availability tickets. Highlights include cocktail making with Laura Whitmore, a Magic Breakfast book reading with Alesha Dixon, a beauty Q&A with Vogue Williams, and, on Black Friday itself an exclusive live gig from Ray BLK. 

John Boumphrey, Amazon UK country manager says: “We’ve created this year’s Black Friday Live event specifically to give our customers a bit of an escape, whether they’re joining in person or tuning in from home. Our Black Friday experience features dozens of immersive ways to find great deals on gifts, and some of the nation’s best-loved celebrities will join us for these star-studded events. And to top it off, we will have new ways that customers can support small businesses during Black Friday Week with our small business Gift Finder, small business spotlight and dedicated small business deals page.”

Amazon’s Black Friday Week deals are already on offer in a 10-day event that goes on until Monday November 29. Shoppers can browse deals online, on the Amazon mobile shopping app or by asking Alexa. Discounts of up to 50% are set to be available. 

How leading retailers are approaching Black Friday week

How are the other RetailX UK Top500 retailers approaching Black Friday Week? 

Argos’ Black Friday event is now underway, with discounts in categories including technology, appliances, jewellery, gifts and beauty and skincare, with some priced at less than half-price. The retailer is emphasising its delivery promise with same or next-day delivery both available. 

Asda was one of the first two retailers – the other being Amazon – to introduce Black Friday to the uK in the early years of the event, but then moved away from it amid negative publicity of in-store ruckuses. This, Black Friday is back on at Asda, which, now under new ownership, is promising “better deals than ever” and a “super-charged Asda Price pocket tap”. The event is already live, with offers in categories from toys to home entertainment and cookware, and with some offers only available in-store. 

Boots is promising its “biggest ever Black Friday”, with offers already available including savings of up to 60% on electrical beauty products, and half-price deals in areas from toothbrushes to its own No7 range. The deals are part of a month-long event, and include time-limited Star Gifts and three for two offers. Again, fast delivery is flagged up, from next-day delivery to free click and collect on orders of more than £15, and free standard delivery when shoppers spend at least £25. 

Marks & Spencer isn’t currently running a named Black Friday event, but is highlighting deals of up to 50% off on some lighting products and up to 40% on off some homewares products, while also featuring Christmas pyjamas and knitwear on its home page.

Tesco takes a similar approach, with a Christmas theme on its home page – from food to decorations and gifts – but, as yet, no mention of Black Friday. 

Other Black Friday stalwarts include Currys, which is promising the best prices on technology, mobile, electrical and large appliances in a Black Friday promotion that emphasises fast collection and free delivery. Black Friday is also underway on John Lewis, meanwhile, with typical offers of 20% on clothing, homewares and electrical. 

Early starts

Almost half (47%) of UK merchants have  gone early with their Black Friday marketing campaigns in order to reach shoppers sooner, finds a new study from payment solutions provider It questioned 252 online retailers and more than 2,000 UK adults and found 41% of shoppers say they have started their Christmas shopping early to avoid disappointment, with 36% concerned about products being out of stock, and 28% concerned items they have already ordered online will not arrive in time for Christmas. And by early November 50% of UK merchants, finds the study, had already seen an uptick in seasonal sales, and 52% of UK retailers believe shoppers will spend more this Christmas than last year. 

That raises concerns including concerns include shipping costs, supply chain issues and inflations with 30% fearing they won’t be able to fulfil a spike in demand for goods’ and 25% who fear they will struggle to offer significant discounts. Four in ten (41%) have invested in their online payments specifically to secure maximum revenue during the important shopping season.

Moshe Winegarten, retail sectorlead at, says: “This year’s critical festive sales period looks set to be complicated by challenges that are beyond most retailers’ control. But there are steps that merchants of all sizes can take right now to counter the impacts of these external pressures.  Rather than being a big bang moment, we can expect this year’s festive shopping season to start earlier, be more sustained, and defined by higher-level transactions.”

Will shoppers be buying this Friday? 

One new poll says more shoppers will be buying than not, with 43% saying they will buy something on Friday, 39% undecided, and 18% who say they will not. More than a third (35%), meanwhile, say they started Christmas shopping earlier than ever in the response to disrupted supply chains, according to the poll from consumer research platform Attest. 

Of those who do plan to shop, 30% say they will spend between £100 and £200, and 14% plan to part with between £300 and £500. And of all shoppers, 38% say Black Friday is the best day of the year to get a bargain – while 15% disagree. Many say they’d say they’d rather have a short period of discounting than this year’s longer event, with one in four (40%) preferring one to three days worth of sales, and 29% who would rather see a one-day event. Asked where they would be buying, the top choice was Amazon, followed by Argos, Currys and John Lewis. 

How will shoppers buy?

Half of shoppers are expected to buy mostly online this Black Friday and peak trading season, according to a study from customer engagement specialist Quadient. It questioned 1,000 UK adults and found that half do most of their Christmas shopping online for delivery or collection, while 21% will mostly buy in-store. 

The study finds that 67% of online shoppers use click and collect services – up from 60% last year – with 32% doing so at least once a month. Meanwhile, 25% of respondents say they have had a lost or stolen parcel delivery in the last year – up from 20% a year earlier. 

“Although a large amount of this year’s consumer spend has taken place online, the ‘last mile’ delivery – the process of getting goods to customers – is still proving to be an issue,” said Bren Standell, commercial director parcel lockers division UK/IRL at Quadient. “Throughout the past 18 months, consumers have dealt with a wide variety of problems, from missed parcel deliveries to stolen parcels.”

The New West End Company says it is seeing the number of people visiting shops rise in the run up to Black Friday, with the latest footfall figures 11% up week-on-week – and 287% up on the same time in 2020 – when non-essential retailers were closed. Footfall was, however, 21% down on the same time in pre-pandemic 2019.  

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, says: “As footfall continues to grow, we are expecting our domestic customers to take full advantage of the numerous discounts on offer this year, which are already being promoted by many retailers across the district. Retail businesses are clearly keen to make the most of the festive period in order to make up for lost custom and revenue.”

Fraud warnings

The National Cyber Security Centre is warning small and medium-sized retailers of the threat of skimming as the peak trading continues. It says that hackers are exploiting a vulnerability in popular ecommerce software, and that up to the end of September it has already notified more than 4000 small business sites up to the end of September whose customers’ payment details were being stolen. Retailers are being urged to ensure that software they use – including Magento  is up to date.

NCSC deputy director for economy and society Sarah Lyons says: “We want small and medium-sized online retailers to know how to prevent their sites being exploited by opportunistic cyber criminals over the peak shopping period. Falling victim to cyber crime could leave you and your customers out of pocket and cause reputational damage.

“It’s important to keep websites as secure as possible and I would urge all business owners to follow our guidance and make sure their software is up to date.” 

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