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So long Black Friday, hello Cyber x-day: the future’s online


A single dot on a graph is just that – a dot. Two dots make a line. Three … well, now you can see a pattern emerging. And although one swallow does not make a spring, as the saying goes, I’m going to stick my neck out – again – and make a prediction based on a single incidence of something.
Black Friday 2014 was marred by two things: people fighting over cheap TV sets, and points of failure in the delivery ecosystem affecting retailers and carriers alike.

This year, even though the dust has yet to settle, one thing is becoming increasingly clear. Anecdotal and empirical data both attest to a drop in in-store activity and significant increases online, and you can find a full blow-by-blow recap of Cyber Monday here, courtesy of my colleagues over on InternetRetailing.

According to retail analyst firm FootFall, shopper traffic on Black Friday itself fell by 4.05% year-on-year, and as a whole, footfall was down on 2014’s Black Friday weekend (-5.17% year-on-year), with Saturday down -6.14% year-on-year and Sunday down -5.17% year-on-year. Steve Richardson, UK regional director at FootFall, said: “There seems to be a real loss of consumer appetite for Black Friday compared to last year. Of course, this could be an indication that people are simply switching their buying behaviours and going online to secure a deal.

“However, the drop in visitors in store can also be attributed to retailers’ changing their Black Friday strategies and extending the promotional event beyond a single day of discounting.” A point which reflects the Asda Black Friday u-turn stance.

A similar story emerged from John Lewis, which issued a statement late on Monday saying: “Black Friday 2015 was John Lewis’s biggest-ever single day’s trade at +11.9% on last year, building on what was an exceptional 2014.

“Looking at the weekend as a whole, there was a different pattern of trade to last year. On Black Friday itself, sales were mainly driven by, while shops were busy at the weekend with sales on Saturday +9.3% year on year.

Mark Lewis, retail director at John Lewis said: “Black Friday itself marked a record day for John Lewis and strong trade continued into the weekend. On Friday online trade really stepped forward, while shops saw their biggest increases over the weekend, showing that more than ever customers like to mix and match channels to shop in the most convenient way for them.

In its statement, the retailer was bullish about how well its distribution operations had performed: “The stand-out success of the day came from our distribution teams, who processed +18% more parcels across Friday, Saturday and Sunday compared to last year, and we processed five units per second during our peak hour.” This, it claims, proves it can cope with whatever the Christmas peak throws at it.

You do have to read between the lines a little, but it’s there in the John Lewis statement – a shift from in-store to online.

Tim Robinson, CEO of Doddle, told eDelivery he was out and about on Friday getting the measure of how the day was going: “We saw a big increase in volumes on Monday and Tuesday [last week], suggesting last weekend was a big weekend for online shopping. Just as we predicted a few weeks back, retailers went early on their discounts and are stretching them over a longer period of time.

“Saturday showed (our) largest week-on-week increase, at 122%. Over 75% of Saturday’s volume came from parcels arriving into Doddle stores on next-day services. This volume of next-day deliveries proves that the self-gifting phenomena makes Christmas delivery cut-offs irrelevant for these customers, with as many as 40% of Black Friday shoppers buying for themselves they want to get hold of their new goods quickly.

“Having been out and about (on Friday), high street stores look relatively empty for what is the UK’s biggest shopping day. But as PCA Predict’s stats have revealed, online transactions have been up every hour since ‪12am, compared to Black Friday 2014. People are too busy to queue in-store anymore for a bargain and we’re expecting to see this volume come through our network early next week.”

According to figures released on Monday afternoon by IMRG, the pattern of increased online activity is as widespread as anyone might reasonably expect.

Andy Harding, chief customer officer at House of Fraser said: “Just today, we have received one week’s worth of orders and have seen a significant uplift on Black Friday 2014, with over 120 orders per minute through our website whilst trade is up 40% on last year as of 4pm. Yesterday we recorded our biggest ever online sales, beating last year’s Black Friday event, and we’re confident that today will be even bigger.”

IMRG also reported that saw sessions up approximately 60% on last Black Friday, with midnight to 4am up 70%, and 80% of traffic coming from mobile and tablet devices.

Currys PC World reported a bumper morning on Black Friday – making eight sales per second and selling 30 TV sets every minute online.

B&Q told IMRG it was seeing huge demand online from 5am on Black Friday, hitting a peak then tailing off by 11am. Its stores were busy from 11am onwards and peaked in the afternoon. Online orders were up 128% against a normal Friday and 31% up on last year’s Black Friday. Click-and-collect was chosen by 60% of online Black Friday customers.

Could this be the future for Black Friday … a declining relevance in-store and a growing one online. It’s not much of a stretch, but it would make sense for Europe, and the UK market in particular.

For one thing, unlike the US, on this side of the Atlantic there is no public holiday coinciding with the last weekend in November. The availability of someone’s time, or lack of it, simply has to have a bearing on their desire to visit shops that might be uncomfortably busy.

Plus – if you want to be more tongue-in-cheek about it all – queuing before midnight to fight with strangers is something people in the UK would rather do on Friday and Saturday nights all year round, usually while waiting for the last taxi home from the pub.

The more serious point is what it all means for the delivery networks. Getting shoppers in-store is one of the central planks of an forward-thinking retail strategy. From last-minute impulse buys, through to easing the burden on last mile deliveries, there are plenty of reasons why getting shoppers into your stores is a good idea for retailers. But if the biggest sales day of the year is going to become an almost exclusively online affair over the course of the next three-to-five years the processes, people, and systems behind it are going to be even more under fire than they are now.

More purchases, more deliveries, more failed deliveries, more cards, more returns, more of everything. But still only the same number of roads and a finite number of vehicles, DCs, and people to deal with it all.

Main image copyright Diariocritico de Venezuela
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