Black Friday is upon us, and in today’s coverage of peak trading 2019 we’ll report on what’s going on in a day that many expect to be the biggest online trading day of the year. Throughout the day we’ll update this piece with news from the frontline of the sales, with the latest news at the top of the piece.
John Lewis has explained why it stepped out of its traditions to start its Black Friday event a week early. Bérangère Michel, partner and operations director at John Lewis, said: "Our decision to start promotions earlier this year reflects the fact that Black Friday continues to extend across a longer period. In addition to our deals, we have been monitoring and price matching high street competitors throughout the week to offer our customers some of the best deals on the high street. With some of our most compelling deals having gone live over night, this morning has been particularly busy with customers taking advantage of the new offers."
The retailer, which is ranked Elite in IRUK Top500 research, said 9am to 10am had been its busiest shopping hour so far on Black Friday, looking between midnight last night and midnight today. Lego and Apple products are among the most searched for items on its website.
• Shoppers may be affected by outages affecting NatWest and RBS’s online banking and mobile apps. NatWest and RBS have tweeted to say that both are "currently experiencing intermittent problems". On its website it says: "We apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause, we are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible."
There are suggestions that shoppers may miss out on Black Friday bargains as a result. Deri Jones, chief executive of web performance and testing service Tribe said: "Customers will undoubtedly be frustrated at not being able to access money online or via the Natwest and RBS apps – at just the moment they may want to buy an item in the Black Friday sales."
Jones says the incident highlights the suggestion that they also risk losing money if their own websites don’t stand up to peak demand. "Black Friday discounts can be a key opportunity for brands and retailers to engage new audiences - our latest research shows that 88% of UK shoppers use Black Friday to explore new retail brands they don’t usually shop with. This uptick in demand can cause unpredictable surges to retailers websites as shoppers look to make the most out of the deals on offer, so in order to extract the maximum value from the Golden Quarter retailers websites need to be in a state of permanent readiness, so that customer experience is upheld, customer loyalty remains uncompromised, and sales opportunities aren’t lost."
• Almost half of all retail products being sold online are discounted today, according to online discounts specialist Love the Sales. It says that prices have been reduced on 49% of products, and that the average deal discount is 32%. It says it has analysed consumer search and buzz on 6m discounted products in the first 12 hours of the event to find the products that shoppers are looking for. Among the winners it has pointed out are deals on gaming consoles, and branded men’s and women’s fashion.
• In its second and final update of the day, Barclaycard says it spotted a record-breaking number of transactions over lunch. Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments said: “Between 1pm and 2pm, we recorded 1,184 transactions per second, a Black Friday record. That a 9% increase over last year’s record of 1,087 transactions per second, also recorded between 1pm and 2pm. The fact that records are continuing to be broken suggests that appetite for Black Friday sales is not abating and that despite many years of strong sales, demand is continuing to rise."
• Meanwhile, user experience agency Sigma is warning retailers against falling into what it terms "dark UX traps" including using timers, limited availability offers and suggesting scarcity in stock levels in order to pressure consumers.
“Perhaps the most worrying finding within this year’s Black Friday research was that customers are automatically being signed up to credit accounts which, in the wrong hands, could create unexpected personal debt," said Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma UK.
Stephenson said: “These examples are just a brief overview of what we know is happening across the entire retail industry, with websites are designed with ‘mind tricks’ to confuse consumers into making a purchase. These strategies take advantage of customer desires to find a bargain on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For exactly this reason, they are likely to have been deliberately implemented.
“An inclusive approach to designing products and services should be taken when strategising Black Friday sales. We want to challenge less-scrupulous approaches and help clients build more engaging, trusted online shopping experiences for their customers. This extends from the content they publish, to the reassurance they provide during the transaction and the transparency they offer in their product information, terms, delivery and aftersales processes.”
Spending this Black Friday appears to be well up on last year, according to analysis from Barclaycard. It says that as of 10am it had seen a 12.5% increase in the volume of payment transactions compared to the same time on Black Friday 2018. It is in a position to know since it says it processes nearly £1 in every £3 spent (presumably on credit and debit cards) in the UK.
Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said: "Over the past couple of years we have seen an increase in the volume of transactions on Black Friday. This trend has continued in 2019, and this morning we’ve already seen an 12.5% rise compared to the same period last year.
"This is fantastic news for retailers, with our data showing that transactions have also been strong throughout the week of Black Friday. With many retailers spreading their deals out throughout the week, they will be encouraged to see this hasn’t cannibalised sales volumes on Black Friday itself. It will be interesting to watch what happens as we progress throughout the day.”
However, Philipp Gutzwiller, managing director, retail at Lloyds Bank Commercial, says he think sales may be slower than in previous years. He said: “From a smattering of one day discounts, Black Friday evolved quickly to become a bumper sale period in the UK stretching over more than a week – but sales this year looks set to be slower than they have been previously.
“While we might see queues outside high street shops for the most sought-after sales, the most significant discounts are usually online only. Given that many retailers have increased their stock levels to cater for political uncertainties and have suffered a weaker than expected October, we expect the sales volume to be large and some discounts offered to be very attractive.
“Meanwhile, consumers – who have become accustomed to continuous discounting via voucher codes or limited offers outside the traditional sales seasons - will have done their research ahead of this event and will use online channels to identify the outlets offering the best price for specific items.
“With this in mind, those who are strongest both online and on the high street are best placed to capitalise on the Black Friday rush. What’s clear is that after a somewhat tumultuous year retailers will be vying for dominance throughout the Black Friday period and hoping shoppers increase spending in the build up to Christmas.”
Here’s what UK multichannel and ecommerce retailers ranked Elite in IRUK Top500 research (and listed in alphabetical order) are doing to mark Black Friday .
Amazon’s Black Friday week started last Friday and ends at midnight tonight. It says this is its biggest ever Black Friday week and as well as offering discounts in a range of formats, including lightning deals, it’s also offering cut-price access to its services: those trying Prime Now or Amazon Fresh deliveries for the first time will get a discount. Members of its Prime subscription scheme, meanwhile, get early access to some of its deals – and free access to some Premier League matches in December.
Argos also got its peak trading deals off to an early start, launching them last Friday with the help of a sports reporting team. Last night it stepped up the pace, launching its "biggest and best" deals at 9pm, which it says include its lowest ever prices on some technology and electricals, along with 25% off clothing, Christmas trees, beds and mattresses. Same day delivery and click and collect feature prominently on its home page, as does the option to pay later by applying for its credit card.
H&M is in full Black Friday mode, and is promising 20% off everything, both in-store and online. It’s highlighting its Christmas party clothing, Christmas gifts and Christmas moments on its home page – as well as its offer of free delivery for loyalty club members, and the ability to pay later, via Klarna.
John Lewis started its Black Friday event earlier than many, on November 22, and it runs up to Monday December 2 - Cyber Monday. It is featuring offers across home, fashion, electricals and nursery. It’s also pointing out its traditional price match on offers.
New Look is offering up to 50% off selected styles, flagging up offers on women’s clothing and footwear and men’s and girls’ clothing. The retailer is highlighting its click and collect option and encouraging shoppers to visit its stores. Black Friday offers are also gathered together in a dedicated section.
Sainsbury’s home page is more muted than those of other Elite retailers, offering 25% off deals on wine and acting as a gateway to Argos’ Black Friday event and to 25% off at Tu clothing.
Beyond the Elite retailers, Top50 trader Asos is offering discounts of up to 70% off, in what it says is its biggest deal ever. Jigsaw - ranked Top250 – which held out against Black Friday in previous years, is offering 20% off everything. Top50 retailer Asda was one of the first, along with Amazon, to bring Black Friday to the UK back in 2010. But in recent years it has moved away from the event to an extent. Today its home page urges shoppers to make Christmas special in their grocery shopping, while it offers time-limited ’roll black’ offers.
Currys PC World, a Leading retailer, is offering up to 50% off a range of electricals and gaming deals, and promises that shoppers won’t find it cheaper anywhere else. Delivery is free on all orders and it flags up that customers can pick up from 800 stores. As with some of the Elite retailers, Currys is highlighting how shoppers can spread the cost of larger purchases.
Hitwise has been monitoring retailer performance via its peak planning dashboard in the run up to Black Friday, and says that it detected a "significant surge" in engagement during the week to November 23. It says that consumers visited retail an average of 32.7 times, which is 2.4 times more than the previous week prior. "Pre-Black Friday promotions from major retailers, it says, have contributed to consumer engagement and paying off for marketers. Electronics and beauty retailers saw larger jumps in average visits.
Expectations for the day are mixed. Email trade association IMRG has predicted that sales growth will be low or non-existent while Springboard says that in-store visitor numbers will continue to fall. It suggests that footfall across all types of shop will be down by 4.5%, with high streets worst hit with a decline of 5.5%.
Others are more optimistic. Bloomreach has drawn on 2018 data to predict an m-commerce bonanza, and says that more than 50% of ecommerce sales will be made via mobile devices. Content management system provider Magnolia questioned 1,000 shoppers over the last week and found that 20% were planning to buy online this weekend. It says that could mean as many as 13m people buying online - representing a major surge in traffic. However, fewer than 5% will hit the high streets.
Pricing specialists Simon-Kucher says that the event has become the biggest shopping day around the world within just a few years of being established outside the US. It questioned 12,000 shoppers in 14 countries and found that, overall, at least 95% had heard of the event. But it warns that the event might not be as good for retailers as for shoppers. James Brown, head of the UK consumer and retail practice at Simon-Kucher in London, said: "Shoppers worldwide, not just in Britain and America, certainly love these days and the opportunities for bargains. Whether they are a good thing for high street retailers is another matter, with the heavy discounts eating into profits at a time when they should be making good margins ahead of Christmas.
“We are no longer looking at a single day in the UK. This became 2-3 days, then a week and now this seems to be stretching to a month of discounts. To sustain this retailers are needing to offer shallower discounts and consumers and media are becoming wise to this. We still expect some high profile events on Friday but the theatre is disappearing, making this less of an event and more business as usual."
Black Friday discounts started to go mainstream last week, with Argos, Amazon and John Lewis among the retailers to launch events. But today is still expected to stand apart as a shopping day – one that could be the busiest of the year.
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Retailer images: Screenshots of the relevant websites/InternetRetailing Media