The Black Friday sales in 2014 brought chaos to both physical and online stores as consumers rushed to bag the best bargains. Stampedes to enter stores, squabbles over limited supplies and crashing websites were a common theme on the most volatile shopping day of the year. Particular low points saw customers having physical altercations over heavily discounted items, and injuries arising as people were trampled in the rush to enter stores as they opened.
Chaos aside, the Black Friday promotions of 2014 saw record retail sales across the UK - £810m was spent in store and online, particularly on big-ticket items such as television sets, tablets and sound systems. This American import showed all the signs of becoming a permanent fixture on the UK retail calendar.
The run up to 2015…
Following the chaos of Black Friday last year, a number of retailers including Asda decided to completely cancel Black Friday promotions. Some retailers decided to launch a programme of smaller discounts and offers over a longer period of time. By launching their discounts online a week early, Argos were rewarded with a 22% rise in web traffic. Other retailers, such as Fat Face, are donating a proportion of profits from the sale of full priced goods on Black Friday to charity rather than giving consumers a discount.
For retailers still partaking in traditional Black Friday promotions, record sales were predicted. A slump in sales over the past few weeks, particularly sales of electronic and tech products, indicated that shoppers were holding off in anticipation of Black Friday discounts. Although discounts this year are not as steep as in previous years, retailers have stocked up to avoid shortages, electronics retailer Currys PC World lined up 40% more stock this year in anticipation.
Other predictions for Black Friday included a rise in counterfeit websites as fraudsters try to take advantage of shoppers in search of a bargain; the expectation of violence to match that seen last year; and a rise in employees calling in sick in order to take advantage of in-store discounts.
The retailers predicted to cash in were John Lewis, Amazon and Currys, particularly as a result of heavy investment in delivery and supplier relationships. Amazon in particular is expected to cash in after slashing the price of their 'Prime' delivery service by £20 to £59 for a year's subscription.
So what happened?
The dramatic and occasionally violent scenes of last year's Black Friday sales were noticeably improved this year, as the majority of shoppers moved online. Whilst many promotions are yet to finish, forecasts are suggesting that sales (both in store and online) were up to £1.6bn, a 20% increase on last year. Discounts have been more moderate, but spread across a longer period, which may have contributed to the calmer response by shoppers. The subdued response to store early opening hours suggests that many retailers may look to scale back their promotions in 2016.
Whilst the general consensus was that Black Friday was much quieter this year than in 2014, many retailers did actually see an increase in sales. AO.com said that by 9am, they had already surpassed their 2014 Black Friday sales figures; Currys PC World saw a 53% increase in their hourly web traffic compared to last year; and Amazon reported record figures for Friday, selling an average of 86 items per second, it's biggest ever sales day in the UK. However, some retailers struggled to keep their websites up and running, with many including Argos, John Lewis and Tesco reportedly crashing and consumers experiencing delays, slow page-loading and other technical errors.
How do the figures compare?
According to Experian, Black Friday 2014 saw £810m spent across the UK, with a further £720m spent on 'Cyber Monday', £702m on Boxing day and a 5-week festive period total spend of £4bn.
Experian predicted a spend of £1.07bn to be spent this Black Friday, followed by a Cyber Monday worth £943m and an £856m Boxing Day, giving a bumper total spend of £4.9bn across the 5-week holiday period.
While we are yet to see any confirmed figures for Black Friday and Cyber Monday is still in progress, all signs indicate that this will prove to be a record sales day for retailers across the UK, with an estimated £1.6bn sales on Black Friday and almost £1bn expected to be spent on Cyber Monday.
What can we learn?
Many retailers will look to boost their web offering as the Black Friday fight moves to online deals. Ensuring there is adequate back-up storage to manage increased, short term web traffic is critical, as well as an efficient storage and logistics network for product delivery. Cementing an omni-channel strategy is key for ensuring competitive advantage is this allows engagement with customers through mobile, social media and email and permits a variety of delivery options – click and collect, next-day, same-day etc.
Another 'one to watch' – particularly with the jump in online sales – is the increase in cyber hackers. Consumers are being urged to be vigilant as hackers target bargain hunters, particularly by setting up false websites to obtain people's credit card details. Whilst it is important for retailers to ensure that their cyber security practices are fit for purpose, there is a wider education piece for consumers to be aware of such activity not be duped into giving away personal details.