Are Black Friday ‘bargains’ to be trusted? Perhaps not always

London Briefing: John Lewis sells 100 pianos and keboards after £5m Elton John ad airs

Sales of pianos were the most searched for item on the John Lewis website after their  ad featuring Elton John launched, the group said. Photograph: John Lewis & Partners/PA

Sales of pianos were the most searched for item on the John Lewis website after their ad featuring Elton John launched, the group said. Photograph: John Lewis & Partners/PA

 

Perhaps the £5 million John Lewis is rumoured to have spent on its Elton John Christmas advert will be worth it after all: the retailer boasted on Tuesday that it had sold 100 pianos and keyboards in the three days after the ad was aired.

It will need to shift a whole lot more than that over the coming weeks, however, if it’s to emerge as one of the retail sector’s winners this Christmas.

But first, there’s Black Friday to negotiate, the post-Thanksgiving, US-inspired shopping frenzy that traditionally kicks off the festive shopping splurge.

While some retailers are saving their deals until the actual day, Friday November 23rd, many others have already launched their offers and will keep their promotions going through to December.

Introduced into the UK by online giant Amazon in 2010, Black Friday has now been extended into a “Black Fortnight” as retailers stretch their deals from late November to early December, taking in Cyber Monday, which falls on November 26th this year.

Just 13 per cent of the products it tracked were only at their very cheapest price on Black Friday

Spending this year is forecast to top £10 billion, although there are distinct signs of shopper fatigue amid the Brexit gloom and household budget squeeze.

Consumers are also increasingly wary of being conned by Black Friday bargains that turn out to be nothing of the sort.

That wariness will be heightened by research this week from Which?, the consumer organisation, which has studied Black Friday deals from 2017 and found that many of the products on offer could have been bought more cheaply at other times of the year.

Which? studied the prices of almost 100 popular tech, home and personal products sold during Black Friday last year, tracking them for a full 12 month period. It found that almost 90 per cent of the deals cost the same price – or less – in the six months following Black Friday. And almost half the deals could be found cheaper than their Black Friday price on at least one day in the following six months.

Just 13 per cent of the products it tracked were only at their very cheapest price on Black Friday. For example, Which? found a 60-inch 4K LG TV advertised by Amazon at £799 on Black Friday was £50 cheaper on more than 60 days afterwards – and the price was cut by a further £150 at the end of December.

The consumer organisation’s Alex Neill warned shoppers not to get carried away by the hype and to do their homework if they want to bag a genuine bargain.

Pre-Christmas discounts

While many shoppers will be tempted by the bargains – genuine or not – over the next couple of weeks, a growing number of consumers are likely to keep their nerve until nearer December 25th. Given the current state of the high street, there’s every chance the pre-Christmas discounts will be even deeper that the Black Friday deals.

A number of retailers have bravely turned their backs on Black Friday this year, including Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser. Both are struggling and could do with the extra sales, but have clearly decided that maintaining margins at this crucial time of the year is more important than effectively “buying” sales with discounts.

John Lewis has its own Black Friday deals but is forced into discounting over a wide range of products because of its “Never Knowingly Undersold” price promise, under which it will match rivals’ price cuts.

The employee-owned retailer reports its sales weekly and its latest figures, up to last Saturday, show a boost from both the early Black Friday offers, which it matched, and the launch of its Christmas ad on Thursday.

The ad depicts the life of Elton John, from the Christmas gift of his first piano as a little boy to rock superstar performing for thousands of fans. Sales of pianos were the most searched for item on the John Lewis website after the ad launched, the group said.

Meanwhile, in a surprise addition to the festive ad launches, the man named John Lewis is starring in his own Christmas offering this year, courtesy of Twitter UK.

The real John Lewis is an American university lecturer, who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. He’s had the @johnlewis Twitter handle since 2007 and receives more than 50,000 tweets a year that are meant for the retailer.

These he answers with good-humoured quips and observations, patiently redirecting senders to @jlandpartners.

His tweets have become part of the festive fun at Christmas – and his own ad, launched on Monday, has already racked up more than one million hits.

– Fiona Walsh is business editor of theguardian.com

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