November was a good month, with spend up just 2% year-on-year for the very simple reason that Black Friday and following Cyber Monday encouraged people to get their shopping done early. The last couple of years were full of stories of couriers hitting trouble and not delivering in time for Christmas, and so the offer of getting the festive spending done a month before the big day made sense. People bought in the sales and had a month's wiggle room if deliveries were late or good needed to be returned.
Only the most overly optimistic retailer could possibly have thought people would suddenly remember a bunch of relatives they hadn't bought anything for, prompting a visit to the shops to spend the money saved during Black Friday on new presents.
Nevertheless, according to Visa, spending was up 1% overall in December, year-on-year. The trouble for retailers was that the traditional sectors of jewelry, fashion and gifts were all down around 2%. The reason that December turned out to be a month of growth, then, wasn't because we bought additional gifts that were not snapped up in November's sales. No, it was down to what the Brits do best. A few extra drinks and a meal or two out with friends, family and work colleagues.
So if you run a chain or pubs or restaurants, or even a combination of the two, Black Friday did you a huge favour. People had Christmas covered, and given that things are generally looking economically, people knew what was left in their bank account was theirs.
So Black Friday was not a huge success, all things considered. Retailer's Web sites crashed or left people cursing as they waited impatiently in queues to get to the online merchandise. As for in-store, the average Briton will now forever associate Black Friday with people fighting over cut-priced televisions. Americans may have seen this before, but for us, this was new and disturbing.
John Lewis' Managing Director, Andy Street, forewarned that Black Friday would not be good for British retail, and he is a leading voice cautioning against shops relying on the day this year to boost sales.