Black Friday weekend: Physical crush or digital crash?

Black Friday 2016OK, what actually happened late last week and at the weekend. Did we all shop ’til we dropped? Did we click like crazy causing websites to crash? Did we bristle with rage every time we heard the words Black Friday?

Well, yes and no to the first question, yes and no the second, and yes, yes, yes to the third. Actually, the third one might have just been me. I still think Black Friday is a crazy event for UK retail and guaranteed to generate one of my patent Halliday rants.

I mean, it started as a way for US stores to tempt bored consumers (post-Thanksgiving) into their stores with some good deals in the hope they’d also buy full-price stuff. But the last Friday in November isn’t the same in Britain. It’s just another Friday. And besides, the name Black Friday sounds more like a stock market meltdown than a shopping festival. Maybe I’ll just call it BF (or perhaps BFF would be better – I won’t say what the second F stands for).

So here we are, stuck with this event that not only doesn’t tempt people through store doors to look at the full-price goods, it offers so many discounts that the chances of them paying full price for anything are skinnier than a catwalk model.

Anyway, back to what actually happened. One thing is very clear. The BF weekend shopping event is still evolving and while we can learn from what has happened this year, next year could be different, very different. After all, this year was different from last and last year different from 2014 (and so on).

Black Friday 2016

So, now let’s look at some facts and figures. Springboard data shows footfall on Friday rose 2%, with high streets, retail parks and shopping centres all in positive territory. This was a surprise given predictions that footfall would drop 5% and that this year BF would be all about online. Yes, online sales rose, but only by 6.7% Springboard said, even though a 25% surge had been expected. These two figures compare with footfall down 0.8% and e-sales up 31% on BF last year.

And on Saturday? Well, when more people would have been expected to head to stores, footfall to all retail destinations actually fell 0.8%, although high street footfall rose 1.2%.

Retail parks, which have evolved from their DIY/supermarket roots to offer much more fashion these days, fell (by 1.3%) and Springboard reported an even worse 4.4% footfall drop in shopping centres. Whaaa? Actually, perhaps that’s not such a shock. I went to Bluewater on Saturday and while (from 08:30 to 09: 30 when I was there) the M&S food hall was heaving, you could practically see the tumbleweed rolling down the aisles in the rest of the store and the rest of the mall.

Springboard said the footfall drop was most likely a result of mall tenants largely being major chains that have strong online ops with shoppers choosing to avoid the expected crush and browsing froth comfort of their sofas. It also said this further backs up its view that malls must broaden their offer to serve up more than just shops – dining, entertainment and other leisure options are crucial for getting potential shoppers through the door.

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