Wednesday, 21 January 2015

How 'Black Friday' Is Transforming Christmas in the UK

by Marley Andrews

Black Friday reaches the UK
(source: BBC)
Like many traditions adopted in the UK, Black Friday originated in the USA, and falls on the first Friday after Thanksgiving. It was a term widely used by the police force in the 1960s to describe the disruption caused to traffic and busy sidewalks on this day, and unofficially marks the first day of Christmas shopping. 

Despite not celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday in itself, over recent years UK retailers including John Lewis and ASDA have begun to promote this popular American tradition within their stores and online, resulting in huge popularity amongst consumers. Another explanation for the name ‘Black Friday’ refers to the profits generated by the day and indicates the point where retailers begin to turn a profit, thus bringing them ‘into the black’. While it would be assumed that this substantial demand and increase in profits would be solely beneficial for a firm, it has recently caused issues for some UK retailers especially, both in terms of the supply chain and dealing with demand, and sales in the crucial period in the run-up to Christmas. These issues raise questions about whether Black Friday is in fact a beneficial promotion for UK businesses to partake in, or if this is a tradition that should remain exclusively American.

Though issues were inevitable, given the promotion’s infancy in Britain, its popularity in the UK market in 2014 was unprecedented, with overall retail sales increasing by a staggering 145% between the previous Thursday and Black Friday itself, an 101% increase on 2013. This huge increase in demand, while good in terms of shifting stock caused multiple issues for retailers, especially John Lewis, both on the day itself and during the sales 'hangover' caused in the weeks following Black Friday and the crucial period shopping period in the run up to Christmas. Black Friday 2014 broke the record of the highest sales figure in John Lewis' 150 year history, selling £179 million worth of goods and reportedly selling a tablet every second in just 24 hours. The introduction of Black Friday, though great for consumers has interestingly restructured Christmas shopping plans, with sales higher than those in the week before Christmas. People did most of their shopping earlier in the year, hoping to get a better deal in the late November sales as opposed to paying full price in December. This thus had a knock-on effect on sales growth and means that a large proportion of Christmas sales are now being concentrated into one day.

The day itself requires a lot of logistical planning in order to try and fulfil the huge quantity of orders placed in just 24 hours. Not only this, but it could be questioned whether having so much trade in such a short period of time near the beginning of the Christmas shopping period is beneficial to a business, as they are essentially clearing their shelves of stock that they could have otherwise sold full price.

Despite the problems it has caused UK retailers, given the popularity of Black Friday in 2014, it is evident that it is only going to grow this year, encouraging more consumers to do their Christmas shopping early and introducing a new structure to consumer Christmas shopping plans. 

Furthermore, the increasing popularity of Black Friday is likely to encourage more companies to take part this year, thus heightening the competition between retailers on what is quickly becoming the busiest shopping day of the year. 

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