Black Friday has been an American institution for years, held on the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving since 2000. While not an official holiday, it’s viewed by many as being the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US.
The name ‘Black Friday’ was apparently coined because retailers typically operated ‘in the red’ (meaning they incurred financial loss) from January to November, with ‘Black Friday’ being symbolic of the date on which conditions changed and retailers returned to profit (or operating ‘in the black’).
The day epitomises the paraphrased statement of ‘more is more’ with dramatic discounts and special promotions driving shoppers into a frenzy and resulting in lengthy late night queues outside the most popular stores.
Up until about three years ago, Black Friday was all but unheard of in the UK. But times have changed. Amazon’s regular promotion of Black Friday deals alerted us to the term and a number of UK retailers have started to jump on the bandwagon, with some even offering a ‘Black Week’ of specials deals.
But is Black Friday good for the UK, or is it a phenomena best left to our US cousins?
Well, in terms of sales the event has seen mixed results, with John Lewis enjoying its busiest day ever in 2014 but Asda reporting poor sales.
Last year Tesco’s also came under criticism from police as its stores played host to mini-riots as bargain-driven shoppers became desperate to get the best deal.
Police were called to 15 different Tesco’s stores, with a broken wrist being reported and a wheel-chair user finding a TV dropped on her in the mayhem.
At the time Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, asserted; ‘The events of last night were totally predictable and I am disappointed that stores did not have sufficient security staff on duty. This created situations where we had to deal with crushing, disorder and disputes between customers.’
So is Black Friday worth the chaos it causes? Most retailers appear to believe it is, and The Telegraph has reported that internet sales are predicted to exceed 1 billion Pounds during the 24 hours of Black Friday for the first time in British history.
October’s UK Retail Sales report disappointed expectations, with sales falling -0.9% on the month rather than the -0.6% forecast. When the data was published investors showed little concern as they predicted that many shoppers were probably holding back ahead of November’s discounts, and they could be right.
In 2014 November saw year-on-year sales growth of 6.4%, the best rate recorded for a decade.
If Black Friday sales do result in a rebound in retail sales growth it could support both the UK’s economic outlook and the case in favour of the Bank of England (BoE) introducing higher borrowing costs – UK positive outcomes.
However, if Black Friday falls flat after the pandemonium of last year, it could have a modestly detrimental impact on economic projections for the UK.
In the view of some industry experts, Black Friday is helping to accelerate the ‘online shopping revolution’ and encouraging changes in shopping habits. But whether the move to increased online spending and reduced shopping on British high streets proves to be a positive or a negative for the nation long-term remains to be seen.
If your business is participating in Black Friday here are some tips for weathering the storm…
1) Make sure your store has adequate security – If your business is offering big discounts on high value electronics you can expect it to draw big crowds. Prepare for this and reduce the likelihood of any potential scuffles by having a visible security presence.
2) Limit customer numbers – if you can’t have a number of security staff in the shopping environment keep the situation calm by having a staff member on the door and limiting the amount of customers allowed in at any one time.
3) Have enough staff to cope with demand – Obviously you’ll want to get as many people through the door as possible, but you may need additional staff to help transactions go through quickly and ensure the flow of customers doesn’t get backed up.
4) Have tech support on standby – If your business is going to be relying on online sales you need to make sure your website is responsive (to cater for those who will be shopping on their phones or tablets) and also able to withstand a high volume of traffic without crashing.
If you’re business isn’t getting involved in Black Friday this year, keep an eye on how competitors in your sector approached the occasion this time out and see if it’s something you could benefit from in 2016.
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