Black Friday the colour of money for UK retailers

Britain’s retailers are gearing up for their busiest-ever online shopping day at the end of this week with huge discounts on a wide range of goods

The 800,000 sq ft Amazon  fulfilment centre   in Swansea, Wales. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The 800,000 sq ft Amazon fulfilment centre in Swansea, Wales. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

Britain’s retailers are gearing up for their busiest-ever online shopping day at the end of this week, as “Black Friday” fever sweeps the nation.

With huge discounts on offer on a wide range of goods, not just online but also on the High Street, some forecasts suggest takings could exceed those of Boxing Day, December 26th, the traditional time for bargain-hunting.

Five years ago, Black Friday didn’t even feature in the UK retail calendar. Then, in 2010, Amazon introduced the American shopping phenomenon to the UK and, over the next few years, it was adopted by other retailers as they sought to kick-start the Christmas shopping spree.

In the US, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, when the festive shopping season kicks off with a raft of sales. Some say the day is so named because it’s when the retail sector moves into the black, or profit, after being in the red for most of the rest of the year. A more likely explanation is a description of the traffic chaos that accompanies the sales.

Whatever’s behind the name, Black Friday has rapidly become a major event for UK retailers, as they battle to win their share of the festive spend. Last year, there were near-riots at Asda stores as shoppers, who had been queuing for bargains since the crack of dawn, fought over heavily discounted tablets, televisions and computers.

Belfast stampede

This year, security staff will be out in force as a record number of retailers join in the sales extravaganza. The supermarkets, already locked in a costly and destructive price war, are likely to offer some of the best bargains.

Sainsbury’s is one of the leading chains that will be embarking on a Black Friday sales blitz for the first time – quite a reversal from its stance of a year ago, when it said it preferred to stick to its traditional January sale.

As with other retailers, it is maintaining an air of mystery about what will be up for grabs – and at what price – on Friday, but has revealed there will be 13 product lines.

Tesco, which needs a sales boost more than most, is hoping to bag early bird shoppers by launching its promotions at a minute past midnight. At Asda, the discounts will start at 8am. The US-owned stores group is determined to “own” Black Friday, which was a massive success for it last year – apart from the unseemly squabbles among shoppers.

Black Friday deals week

At the upper end of the market, John Lewis is looking forward to Friday after enjoying a huge boost to sales last year. Its online shoppers were out in force early 12 months ago, with traffic to its website peaking at between 7am and 8am. Its stores will open at 8am, with discounts on about 100 product lines. The group will also be price- matching other retailers’ deals, in line with its “never knowingly undersold” promise to customers.

The trend in recent years has been for canny shoppers to leave their festive spending later and later, in the hope of forcing bigger bargains from retailers. The hype surrounding Friday will bring forward some of that spending, although at a cost to margins.

For those with cash to spend, Black Friday is a bit of fun with the chance to pick up Christmas presents on the cheap. For retailers, though, it’s a deadly serious game. For many people, Friday is the final payday before 25th December and if retailers want to be among the winners this year they will need to part shoppers with as much of those pay packets as they can.

Fiona Walsh is business editor of theguardian.com

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