High street’s hopes for Black Friday bonanza unlikely as shoppers go online


High street retailers’ hopes for a Black Friday bonanza this weekend are likely to be dashed as more shoppers choose to do their bargain-hunting online.

Analysts predict an increase in spending on the day, with shoppers splashing out £4.3bn, up more than 2% on last year.

But the number of visitors to retail destinations – including shopping malls, high streets and retail parks – is expected to fall by 4.5% over the weekend, despite retailers’ efforts to pull in the crowds with offers, according to the shopper monitoring firm Springboard.

The fall in numbers will be another blow for stores, which have come under sustained pressure from rising costs, the switch to online shopping and low consumer confidence linked to political and economic uncertainty.

The expected decline is partly linked to the changing nature of Black Friday – a US-inspired discount event that became popular in the UK in 2012.

In 2014 the scramble for cheap goods resulted in chaos at some supermarkets as shoppers fought to grab limited stocks. Police and ambulances had to be called to some outlets.

Now, instead of a single day of offers, most big retailers, including Amazon, John Lewis and Argos, spread their offers over more than a week to ease pressure on stores and home-delivery networks.

The switch to online also means shoppers can hunt for early bargains using mobile phones rather than queuing up in the early hours to tussle over a cut-price TV.

While Tesco, John Lewis and Debenhams will open some stores earlier than usual, most retailers will post their bargains online first.

Zoe Mills, a retail analyst at GlobalData, said Black Friday had also become less of a novelty, and shoppers wanted to see steeper discounts on the day because of widespread price-cutting throughout the year.

She said the event was still a big day for retailers, because shoppers making planned purchases often delay their spending and wait for the discount day, while other shoppers brought forward their spending to cash in on the lower prices for Christmas gifts.

“However, its influence is waning as growth is forecast to be 2.2% versus 3.5% in 2018. We are also seeing an increasing number of retailers discount ahead of the promotional event, often depicting these sales as a pre-Black Friday promotion.”

Interest has also been dampened by evidence that many of the deals are not genuine bargains. Research released by Which? this week suggested the event was “all hype” and that 19 in 20 Black Friday discounts were not real bargains. Several retailers disputed the group’s findings.

Mills said sustainability concerns in 2019 meant an increasing number of consumers and retailers now shun the event.

The ethical footwear retailer Allbirds, for example, is this year emptying its London flagship store and turning it into “a space for inspiration and innovation”, including gigs.

There were some high street queues last year – at Aldi, for example, where shoppers lined up to buy Kevin the Carrot cuddly toys. But the overall number of shoppers in stores was down 6%.

However, online spending rose 7%, according to the trade body IMRG. It said sales growth had been dampened by the timing of Black Friday last year, which put it ahead of the final pay day before Christmas for many.