Black Friday: Online shopping dominance keeps high streets quiet

Shopping centres appeared relatively empty as the dominance of online shopping continued to rise for Black Friday purchases.

The quiet high streets came as industry figures warned that the US retail import was not necessarily the best for businesses, or consumers.

Richard Hyman, a retail industry adviser, said the concept of Black Friday was “bonkers” for UK retailers, adding: “The whole thing is smoke and mirrors.”

Mr Hyman said: “It’s encouraging people to buy at a discount when most retailers are not structured to sell at a discount.

“Black Friday sucks business forward from Christmas at a discounted margin, it’s really not very clever.”

Black Friday
Shops in Canterbury, Kent, display offer posters ahead of Black Friday sales (Gareth Fuller/PA)

This leaves businesses with few options, he added.

“Do you discount regular products that hit your margins, or do you buy in special products to mitigate that hit?”

Those special products, he added, were “bound to be inferior”.

“Most retailers, I would say, would really rather not do it if they felt they could,” he said.

Some retailers have decided to opt out of Black Friday this year, including Marks & Spencer.

Meanwhile, an investigation by consumer group Which? found nine out of 10 Black Friday deals they investigated could be purchased for the same, or a cheaper price, at different times of the year.

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Beware — our investigation has found that out of 94 products we tracked only 13% were at their cheapest ever price on Black Friday.

— Which? (@WhichUK) November 20, 2018

Cyber security chiefs at GCHQ have also advised shoppers to be wary of risks and to take precautions when buying online, such as using the guest checkout and having a separate “super-protected” password for your email account.

Despite the usual buzz around the shopping event, research also suggested shoppers’ interest in Black Friday may be plateauing.

Almost two-thirds of the 2,000 UK adults polled by technology provider Aptos said they “don’t wait for deal days” to make purchases, with more than half saying they “don’t trust retailers” to provide the best deals.

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A PwC survey also revealed the buzz around Black Friday deals may have depleted both in store and online. The average shopper, they anticipated, would splash £234 over the weekend, the same amount as 2017.

Half of the 2,000 UK adults PwC surveyed said they were not interested in Black Friday sales, and 11% would intentionally avoid stores.

Retailer group The New West End Company, which represents three key shopping streets in central London, predicted the same turnover as 2017, £150 million, across the 2018 Black Friday weekend.

The group, which represents retailers on Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, said they did not expect the “mad crowds” seen in previous years. The group have instead focused on in-store events and pop-up shops to drive people into store, such as the Google Pixel “Curiosity Rooms” on Regent Street.

Kyle Monk, head of insight, said: “It’s been a challenging year for retailers in terms of the headlines.

“Retailers are doubling down and investing more, and that’s why they’re expecting a flat trend, as opposed to a negative one.”

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Other retailers – including Carphone Warehouse, Currys PC World and John Lewis – have all reported busy online shopping periods since they launched their Black Friday sales on Thursday night.

Carphone Warehouse said it received 14 orders per minute on its site, with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Apple iPhone XR being the most popular items.

Currys PC World said it had seen a 623% increase in computing sales on 2017’s figures, and 61% of their online purchases were made via mobile devices.