As retailers gear up for the first ever online-only Black Friday, many are hoping the weekend shopping bonanza will help close the gap in lost sales from months of store closures during the various lockdowns this year.
Traditionally, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year as shoppers hunt for bargains ahead of Christmas. This year it falls on 27 November, with discounts expected to remain in place over the weekend.
Black Friday is then followed by Cyber Monday three days later, which traditionally has a more online focus.
Meanwhile Small Business Saturday, a campaign to promote independent retailers, falls on 5 December, the week after Black Friday.
However, the main Black Friday event will be different this year as many high street stores remain closed due to the latest lockdown in England, which is set to be lifted on 2 December. It means online sales have never been more important across the whole weekend.
To grab the attention of customers early, some retailers have been running discounts throughout November. This is partly due to logistical reasons, as retailers want to avoid being overwhelmed with a rush of orders they are not able to deliver.
For physical shops that are currently still open to customers, running the discounts across November also means crowds can be avoided on the day itself to ensure social distancing.
Kyle Monk, head of retail insight and analytics at the British Retail Consortium, says Black Friday poses a dilemma for retailers this year. Given that online performance over the golden quarter up to Christmas could be make or break for some businesses, retailers must weigh up whether significantly reduced margins are worth the additional volume when deciding on the discounts they will offer.
“This Black Friday has the potential to be the biggest yet, sitting one week closer to Christmas and coming just after pay day, and many retailers will be looking for a pre-Christmas boost after a challenging year for retail,” he adds.
Abbie Rendell, 40, a stay-at-home mother of two from Cambridgeshire, tracks the price of products to ensure she gets a bargain.
“I used to be an office manager but stopped work two years ago to concentrate on running the household and looking after my two sons, who are nine and seven.
“As we no longer having two salaries coming in, I make a real effort to save money while also trying to be eco-conscious. I try to make sure we only buy what we need, rather than want. Aside from household essentials, I try not to make any purchase decisions straight away. Instead I’ll go away and think about it, and if I really want it I’ll buy it two weeks later.
“I avoid impulse purchases on Black Friday. There are normally a few things on my list, and I’ll typically track the price over a few months to make sure I get a good deal. I check comparison websites and also use the tracking website PriceSpy, which monitors the cost of many big items over the past few months.
“This year I’ve got my eye on a cordless vacuum cleaner. The one I like currently costs around £299, and has been priced like this for three months so I’ll be looking to see if it comes down over Black Friday and take advantage.
“Last year I bought my sons a Playstation 4 at Argos in the Black Friday sale, as part of their Christmas presents. I bought it for £299, which was reduced from £350. But two weeks later I saw Argos had lowered the price by a further £50. So it wasn’t such a big bargain. As the console was still new in the box, I returned it and immediately bought it back again for £249.
“One tip would be to buy from a company that offers a price matching service, so you can return the item if it comes down in price at a later date. I’d also recommend searching for voucher codes, using a cashback website and to pay close attention to delivery charges, as this can ramp up the price.
“I like to go round the shops and see items on the shelves, and I also like to support retailers in my local town. So this year’s Black Friday will feel very different. It has been harder to support the small shops, but many seem to have increased their online presence which is working well.”
Originating in the US as a post-Thanksgiving event, Black Friday has now been adopted by many other countries around the world including the UK. It is believed to be the point in the year when retailers start to turn a profit and go from “in the red” to “in the black”.
Some stores open early to entice customers, and in the past there have been well-publicised reports of frantic shoppers fighting over televisions and other electrical items.
Bagging a bargain
Technology is typically the most popular shopping category and there are three big tech releases that have been released over the past month: the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X, and the iPhone 12.
So what can shoppers expect this year?
“Retailers tend to keep their activity secret until the last minute to ensure they get a competitive edge. We are expecting big discounts after midnight, which is traditionally the case, and we expect many shoppers will stay up for these deals,” says Hannah Byrne, a spokesperson at cashback website Quido.
Consumer groups say shoppers should be wary of “deals” that are not what they seem. It’s not guaranteed the price offered over the weekend will be cheaper than at other times of the year.
Product — Cheapest day to buy in 2019
- iPhone 11 — 12 December
- Nintendo Switch — 20 December
- AirPods — 11 December
- Echo Dot 3rd Gen. — 22 November – 1 December
- Galaxy S10 — 29 November (Black Friday 2019)
- LEGO City Advent Calendar — 29 November
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II wireless headphones — 29 November
- PS4 Pro — 12 December
- Samsung RU7400 TV — 20 December
There are websites that help consumers assess whether a bargain really is a bargain.
These include CamelCamelCamel, which allows users to search the price history for items sold on online retailer Amazon. PriceSpy goes further, tracking prices across hundreds of retailers, including John Lewis, eBay, Hamleys and Very.co.uk.
There’s also Idealo, a price comparison website that has access to more than 900,000 products. The company’s data reveals items such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Bose Wireless Headphones were at their cheapest to buy on Black Friday last year. However the iPhone 11 was cheapest on 12 December, Airpod headphones were cheapest on 11 December and an Xbox One was cheapest on 17 October.
Some retailers offer a price match promise, meaning if an item is reduced further down the line, they’ll be paid back the difference.
Despite some of the warnings about taking part in Black Friday, there’s no doubt it’s a popular day for shoppers. It’s predicted 74 per cent of people in the UK are planning to buy products this Black Friday, according to data from credit checking company Clearscore.
“With extreme pressure to turn a profit, retailers have already been going hell for leather on Black Friday deals, hoping to entice the public to spend more in the sales this year. The public also have high expectations from the retailers to provide an attractive enough deal before they take the plunge. As a money-saving site, and advocates of mindful spending, we would encourage people to plan in advance what they are looking to buy, do their research and set a budget accordingly. There will be offers left, right and centre but it’s important to only ever spend within your means and always look for ways you can make additional savings,” says Adam Bullock, UK Director of TopCashback.