Black Friday led to lowest ever online sales growth in December
The now infamous Black Friday’on the 28th November 2014 resulted in a massive surge of retail sales both online and in stores across the country, with frenzied shoppers desperate to snap up some pre-Christmas bargains.
UK consumer spending online in the 2014 Christmas period (2nd November to 27th December) was up 13% on 2013. Data analysis of online transactions up, to and around Christmas published earlier this month by the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index shows that despite the explosion in sales, growth slowed significantly to a mere 5% improvement when compared to the previous year. The greatest concentration of sales activity took place during the week of Black Friday, with the following weeks declining in the volume of transactions recorded. In fact, retailers claim it was the slowest December in six years, citing Black Friday as a disruptive influence on the pace and rhythm of traditional shopping patterns.
The origins of Black Friday can be located in 1950s and 60s Philadelphia, when post-Thanksgiving sales sprang up to ensure as many Christmas shoppers as possible. The trend soon caught on across the United States to the extent that retailers successfully lobbied the government to have Thanksgiving moved to another day in November, in order to accommodate the sales. As with many things American, Black Friday is rapidly finding a place in British retail culture and is fast becoming a fixture of the Christmas season, although it is not without its critics. Some senior MPs have called for Black Friday to never be held again in Britain after police were called to a number of locations during the event. The BBC, Independent and Telegraph all reported fighting as customers scrambled to get their hands on discounted products.
Online, a number of websites crashed because of demand, with people being told to expect queues at least an hour before even gaining entry to sites like Argos, Net-a-Porter, Currys PC World and Tesco. Whilst retailers enjoyed the number of sales, the potential of websites going down can have wider financial implications in terms of lost business and customer dissatisfaction. Director of ecommerce at BT Expedite, Asif Khetani said: “Days with huge sales spikes have been fraught with issues for retailers who have been caught unawares. Customers don’t just want great deals, they want great experiences. And in today’s ultra-competitive environment, they need great experiences to keep them coming back, as problems like these can cause serious damage to brands.”
Access wasn’t the only problem experienced by online shoppers, who also reported discrepancies in stock showing as available and delivery headaches, an issue of particular concern for those buying from John Lewis. Andy Street, the company’s managing director raised questions after the discount event, even going so far as to suggest it may decline its participation in future.
Disappointment in December’s overall sales came as traders were initially confident that both Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Monday immediately following Black Friday) would boost projected patterns of buying, alongside an upturn in the economy. Undoubtedly, this has proven to be a lesson to retailers who will have to adjust their business strategies to factor in the long-term value and benefits of Black Friday, and its impact on British shopping habits.