Did Black Friday Just Kill October?

Black Friday has a lot to answer for in retail circles. The most recent charge it faces is that it killed off retail sales in October.

Before we move on to that, however, let's remember that every year the news brings us retailers standing outside their stores on Black Friday waxing lyrical about amazing deals and how people will be back to stock up again on gifts in December.

The problem is that when the giddy days of Black November, Cyber Monday, Christmas and the Boxing Day Sales are over, we then have the more serious interviews in marketing and retail trade magazines in the New Year pointing out a familiar story, as retailers admit sales were not as great as we hoped and they are struggling for survival.

Typically, the story will unfold that Black Friday deals were not all that attractive -- after all, particularly when compared to a backdrop of year-round sales and discounting. Plus, they didn't lead to additional sales -- and yes, to be honest, a lot of retailers tried discounts to shift old, tired stock rather than the latest model.

Those who filled their loved ones' stockings a month early generally saw it as a job to tick off the "to do" list. The family had been bought for and any other presents for those not yet covered would be bought in December. These weren't additional sales -- they were sales that were going to happen anyway. Sure, if some items on the Santa list were discounted a month before, why wouldn't someone snap them up? But retailers can stop kidding themselves that they have grown a market or brought in more money.

Which brings us to the latest consideration in the piles of evidence that suggest Black Friday is no good for retailers. The Times has some excellent commentary this morning on October seeing a dip in retail sales of 0.5%. It was the sharpest drop in retail sales in six months and was more than double the decline forecasters had predicted. Clearly, one line of thinking stands up to inspection. October has been unseasonably warm and so people have put off buying winter clothing. 

However, there is an additional line of thinking brought on by a 3% dip in consumer electronics and household appliances, which had performed well over the summer. These goods are obviously not related to the weather as much as clothing, yet still took a nosedive. 

The explanation? Black Friday is now being accused by retail experts and economists of being a reason why people hold back on the big-ticket items for the house. Let's face it -- why wouldn't you wait a month to see if a new television or cooker is going to be discounted. You would certainly feel like a fool if you paid more in October than you would have done if only you waited a month. Over the summer this isn't a consideration, as the end of November seems a long way off. But in October, most people are probably more than happy to wait a month to see if they could save some money. 

So there you have it -- another retail crime Black Friday stands accused of. It has always been clear to me that it doesn't grow sales, but merely entraps retailers who are frightened of losing out to rivals if they don't support the annual US import. 

When you think about it, though, it's just a likely to cause a drop in sales the month before, in addition to just cannibalising sales that would likely have happened anyway over the festive period. 

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