Black Friday sales : Asda, John Lewis and Argos among stores scaling back massive day of sales

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As discussed in our previous article, after bringing Black Friday sales to the UK, some retailers are now concerned about whether it is actually worth the bother as it doesn’t appear to improve sales over the final quarter. Original instigators Asda have been leading the retreat and whilst they acknowledge that they will be holding some sort of Black Friday event, this year they anticipate that it will be scaled right back, in a bid to avoid the ugly scenes of squabbling and violence, as desperate customers fight for a bargain in stores across the UK.

During Black Friday 2014, shoppers in the UK were spending £1 million every three minutes – with sales totalling £800 million and a 23% jump in store traffic – but despite these impressive figures, all is not as it seems. The knock on effect of the sales spike was brutal, with overall sales figures showing the slowest December sales growth since 2008 – at just 1%.

In light of this, many large UK retailers have announced this year that they intend to scale back their participation in Black Friday with many offering alternative promotions and deals over longer periods instead. Argos, Primark, Oasis, John Lewis and Mothercare have all announced their plans to take a different approach to the event – and it’s not just the effect on sales figures that is deterring them. The logistics of managing delivery and returns for online sales, marshalling over-enthusiastic shoppers in store along with the potential damage to business reputations are forcing retailers to rethink their approach. Last year shoppers filmed the squabbles and posted them on social media, some were broadcast on the TV news and there were many debates about whether the UK really needed this American import.

Aaron Shields, Strategy Director Europe, Middle East and Africa at Fitch suggests that more retailers are set to follow suit: “One by one, big British retailers are driving nails into the Black Friday coffin,”

Managing such a high volume of sales, along with aggressive consumers is incredibly stressful for retail staff. 9 out of 10 shoppers say they would prefer to stay indoors and look for deals online – but this huge spike in sales can also seriously hamper delivery as Shields explains: “Only Amazon-like retailers come out on top.” They have the double whammy of getting everything out on time, managing returns and also the knock on effect of the sales spike – which last year saw the rest of the month slump to just 5% growth.

In the US where Black Friday squabbles are notorious, there have been at least seven deaths recorded since 2006 – and police have pepper-sprayed stampeding customers. ( Let’s hope that by scaling back the size of the promotional offer in the UK and managing the crowds effectively, we can bring a bit of British decorum to the event. We’ll be watching with interest to see how Black Friday plays out this year and whether retailers have adjusted their strategies to cope with the demand. Is it here to stay in the UK or will it tail off? Who can resist a bargain right before Christmas? Or a long, orderly queue?