There’s fresh evidence that Black Friday has become an overwhelmingly online event as new British Retail Consortium figures suggest that a third of retail sales took place over the internet in November.
Some 33.8% of non-food retail sales took place online during the month, up from 32.6% a year earlier, according to the latest BRC/KPMG Retail Sales Index. The figures, said the BRC, represented an all-time high for the proportion of retail sales taking place online.
But despite this, ecommerce sales grew only modestly. Online sales of non-food products grew by 2.9% in November - well behind the growth of 6.5% seen last November. At the same time, total retail sales across all channels grew by 0.5%. Like-for-like sales, which strip out the effect of store, and business, openings and closures, were down by 0.5%. A year ago, they were up by 0.6%.
“This month cemented Black Friday as an increasingly digital event, with a record one-in-every-three-pounds of non-food purchases made online during the month,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC.
“Black Friday week itself was bigger than last year, but did little to lift the overall pace of spending, with sales growth in November falling to its lowest rate in seven years.
“Weak consumer demand and falling confidence mean that retailers are in for a nerve-wracking run up to Christmas. Conditions in the industry have been particularly tough since the vote to leave the EU in 2016 and the current uncertainty has only compounded the challenges. Only when the UK secures a transition period with the EU that ensures tariff-free frictionless trade will retailers be able to breathe a sigh of relief.”
In-store sales of non-food fell by 3.3%, like-for-like, in the three months to November. Over the same period, online sales grew by 5.3%. Meanwhile, food sales grew by 0.8%, like-for-like.
Sue Richardson, retail director at KPMG, said: “Aggressive promotional activity around Black Friday failed to lure shoppers, with like-for-like sales in November actually down 0.5% on last year. The benefit of the full weekend, including Cyber Monday, won’t be realised until next month, but it’s clear that growth remains elusive for many retailers.
“Demand for the latest tech - whether that be driven by deals or new releases - did provide some relief from this bleak picture in which even grocery sales were fairly stagnant as food price inflation eased. As we’ve come to expect, online sales did fare better but when compared to the previous year’s growth, the performance wasn’t stellar. Sales growth and profitability don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, especially against a backdrop of deep discounting, so in this environment a laser-like focus on margin and cost base is absolutely essential.”
Jon Woolven, strategy and innovation director at IGD, said that Black Friday did few favours for grocery retailers and contributed to “lukewarm” grocery sales in November, even though 68% say they have already started their Christmas food shopping. “However,” he added, “the long-term trend is to leave most of this until as late as possible, so hopes remain for a strong finish to what has been a good year overall for the grocery sector.”