Some believe Black Friday deals could spur November to break online sales records, while others have their doubts.
According to a report in The Guardian, the combination of Black Friday discounts and coronavirus restrictions could potentially make November a record-breaking month for online spending in the UK. With non-essential shops closed in England and shutting in parts of Scotland at the end of this week, many retailers have started offering online deals to encourage customers to buy early, avoid crowded high streets and prevent delivery chaos in December.
Online sales were said to be up 61% in the first week of November compared with the same period last year, according to the internet industry body IMRG, which believes November is “well on track to be a record-breaking month for online retail”. Of the 320 retailers monitored by IMRG, more than 10% had launched their Black Friday campaigns by the middle of last week, compared to around 4% in 2019.
The focus for Black Friday is traditionally the final weekend of November, when shoppers are predicted to spend £7.5b by one recent report. That would be around 12% less than last year: a drop in total sales is being predicted for the first time since the US-inspired event arrived in the UK in 2013. However, the anticipated fall in spend is attributed solely to lockdown store closures: online sales are predicted be nearly £2bn higher at £5.8b, while stores could miss out on up to £3b of business, to take just £1.7b.
Delivery companies are already experiencing a spike in demand. Last week parcel volumes were 43% higher than in 2019, according to technology firm Metapack.
The Entertainer launched its Black Friday deals early to help spread out sales and, like some other chains, is offering a refund of the difference if prices drop again. Gary Grant has been quoted as saying that the retailer could not “cram seven weeks of customers into its shops in three weeks” when stores reopen. “We’ve got to maximise every single day of every week, all the way to Christmas. We don’t want a lull now and to be over capacity in three weeks’ time.”
In previous years The Entertainer took 10 days to process Black Friday orders and if the lockdown does result in a significant increase , Gary admits that “we and the couriers could not cope”.
However, there is another school of thought emerging – that retailers could play down Black Friday this year for a multitude of reasons. Writing on LinkedIn, former Debenhams buyer James Ford raised some interesting points: “It feels like Black Friday is creeping up on us very quietly this year. In the last few years, November has been loaded with the expectation of what Black Friday will bring. In retail, it disrupted normal peak trading patterns by creating a hiatus – everyone waited to see what deals it brought before really cracking on with their Christmas shopping. In the last year or so the anticipation had definitely faded, but it was still a big deal.
This year, I’m torn on what to expect. A frenzy of deals as retailers desperately try to clear stock (online) or a rather grey washed out affair with buys already kept tight? We do after all have bigger things going on at the moment. At least there won’t be fighting in the (essential retail only!) aisles – it’s difficult to throw a punch two metres. Maybe the second lockdown will effectively eliminate Black Friday this year and we are set for a retail bonanza in December. Black December anyone?”
So far, it appears that retailers have been spreading deals throughout November, judging by the multiple “early Black Friday” offer emails that have been sent. Perhaps this will lead to it not being the big one off event it usually is, which may be no bad thing, given the potential delivery issues. There does, however, seem to be a general feeling amongst consumers that many of the Black Friday ‘offers’ so far have not been particularly exciting, which adds to the suspicion that Black Friday 2020 may fall short of the rather optimistic analysts’ expectations.