A Record Black Friday? Erm, Unlikely

Black Friday is going to be a bumper sales day, according to Salmon, the e-commerce agency owned by Wunderman. UK consumers will spend GBP4.75bn on the day, of which GBP2.5bn will be spent online.

That's a national average of GBP90 with Londoners -- unsurprisingly being the biggest shoppers, spending GBP141 each. That is three times the amount to be spend in the least generous city, Norwich.

Sounds exciting -- just the tonic retailers need after a tough year and ongoing Brexit uncertainty. The trouble is, it's not clear whether these are record figures, because Salmon has nothing to compare them to. It offers figures for last year's online spend -- but it is completely meaningless, as it doesn't include Amazon. 

The other problem is -- and sorry to be the party pooper here -- it is unlikely to be a record Black Friday if recent years are anything to go by.

It doesn't matter how much an e-commerce agency wants to talk up the annual sale bonanza that has been imported form the US -- if people aren't feeling it, they're really aren't feeling it.

Unfortunately, that would appear to be the inconvenient truth when one looks at researchers who don't have a dog in this proverbial fight. 

To quote from a Mintel report published earlier this year: “Black Friday has continued to grow and is now undeniably a firm fixture in the retail calendar. But despite growing numbers of retailers and shoppers taking part in the event, there is a palpable and growing sense of disillusionment among consumers."

YouGov research also says that although 19% of consumers bought gifts on Black Friday in 2016, that proportion had been cut to 17% just one year later.

I don't know about you, but that definitely is the direction of travel I see for Black Friday. Last year's event was largely viewed by retailers as a disappointment both in the lack of shoppers banging on doors to be let in and the fact an early discount sales day didn't increase overall spend.

It stands to reason that people are generally getting Christmas shopping done early, if there are Black Friday deals to be had, and once peoples' families and friends are ticked off the list, it's time to save up for a box of wine and a turkey.

The problem that has not gone away is that retailers are having to discount all year round. It must be hard for first jobbers to remember a day when sales were only at specific, seasonal periods. Today, they are all year round. Prices are kept low, even though a weak pound is forcing the cost of imported items up. Margins are cut to the bone as retailers strive to pay off business rates which online-only rivals are not burdened with.

I think any observer who has watched the carnage unfold on the high street this year will be very surprised if troubled retailers have a rabbit to pull out of the hat, in the form of even bigger discounts. 

It will mean that shoppers who have received cut price offers all year long will not have their heads turned as easily -- and even if they do, retailers will just cannibalise sales they would have made in December anyway.

So, I think all those in retail would love for Salmon's prediction to be a reality, but the past couple of Black Friday events have seen an initial excitement diminish.

I wouldn't be surprised if the story on the day is of some big names ignoring the discount bonanza rather than the amazing sums that have been spent. 

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