Black Friday Set To Eat Christmas -- Can Retailers Survive This Pyrrhic Victory?

It's an uneasy Christmas among retailers, brands and consumers that will see Black Friday hit new heights. This year, Adobe estimates that spending will hit GBP900m on the big day and separate research from Skimlinks suggests that Black Friday accounted for 8% of all purchases last year in the period that stretches 60 days before and after the new hit shopping event. That's nearly double the 4.5% of festive sales it accounted in 2014.

To put that into context, it's actually double the proportion of festive spending in America from where the retail bonanza emanates. To put it into British context, Skimlinks reckons that Boxing Day is now only responsible for around 1.5% of festive sales, which is actually just under Cyber Monday at 2%. There are two very clear observations here. First, for a country that had pretty much not heard of Black Friday at the start of the decade, it has suddenly become the number one shopping day of the festive season. It obviously has nothing to do with the tradition of Thanksgiving, which isn't celebrated in the UK -- it's that good old-fashioned not wanting to pass on a deal. 

The second very obvious point is that Christmas really is getting earlier, with the biggest single day of spending arriving at the end of November in this new shopping event that used to be all about watching American trash a Walmart fighting over televisions but is now repeated here also.

To underline how much earlier Christmas is getting, Skimlinks' data shows that in just the past three years, the peak December shopping day has moved from December 17th in 2013 to December 13th last year. I'm never one for overcomplicating things with research into customer confidence and so on. As today's article in Marketing Weekmakes very clear, people are concerned by Brexit but they're still going to splash out.

The reasons for this shift are not to be found in research -- they're far too obvious for that. Retailers have brought us an American shopping bonanza that seems to good to pass up on. Get Christmas done, at sales prices, a month before the main event. What's left on the shopping list has to be ordered earlier and earlier because not only are people worried about stock running out, they've heard horror stories of couriers not being able to manage demand and missing Christmas slots. So we're fully taking advantage of an early sale and we're then buying in time to make sure our gifts are around the Christmas tree and we're not explaining away the lack of a present on Yodel being overrun.

The really interesting new aspect to all this is that if you listen to the right experts -- i.e., tune into Radio 4 -- they are agreed. Boxing Day and Near Year sales will be a damp squip this year because retailers are struggling with the pound's lower valuation. It will be tough not to pass on price increases before Christmas, which means, effectively, that everything is already being discounted. So when it comes to the post-Christmas shopping spree, consumers may well find they are out of luck. As will some retailers.

Mark these words -- despite record spending levels that will no doubt be posted, January is bound to see a big name or two go from the high street to the receivers. Discounting on stock that is already discounted can only send struggling high street stores in one direction, whereas Amazon will go from strength to strength as it ensures that it pays virtually no UK tax.

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