Black Friday and its implications

The recent publication of the BRC and ONS data for November allow us to examine what actually went on and to make some predictions – amending our expectations for December and looking to November/December 2016.

In this article we use the term “Black Friday” to refer to all promotional activity at the end of November. For online retailers there is Cyber Monday as well and many retailers tried to spread Black Friday promotions over a much longer period including the likes of Argos and Dixons Carphone.

What happened

Against a trend of 2.5% growth in retail sales this year October was very weak – sales up just 1%. November came in below trend as well at +2%.

The clear implication is that people held off spending in October ahead of expected discounts in November. Then when the discounts in November proved to be disappointing, they didn’t spend as much as they expected to.

Understanding electricals

The electricals figures are an important indicator to what was going on. Electricals sales fell by 0.1% in October and they rose 7.1% in November. That growth was on top of almost 20% growth the previous November, so there was certainly a “Black Friday” boost. But it is not as simple as that.

The recent results from Dixons Carphone show clearly just how successful the group’s retail strategy has been. In price matching Amazon and investing in the stores and in service standards in-store, Dixons Carphone is taking share back from the online pure players and that was probably a factor in the November sales growth as well.

What does that mean in spending power?

It is worth putting some numbers on all this. It is dangerous to do so because there are so many other complicating factors, not least the impact of the warm weather on clothing retailers, but there too, one could argue that there is pent up spending power.

However, it looks as if October retail sales were about 1.5 percentage points below trend and November sales were 0.5 percentage points down. That implies an underspend of about £540m which is the equivalent of 1.3% of retail sales in December.


There was a lot of media comment at the end of November suggesting that there had been a switch in demand to online and to some extent that is corroborated in the November retail sales. The proportion of sales that went online rose sharply, but the proportion that went through pure players fell – from 50.5% last year to 49.7% this year.


Amazon put out a press release saying that its Black Friday sales had been a record, but that is hardly surprising. The pure players increased online sales by 10% in November. But the fact that their growth was slower than that of the store based retailers could well point to a change in strategy.

It is reasonable to wonder just how profitable these November promotions are for an online retailers. How many people who buy the promotions actually stay on the site to buy other things? The great problem for online retailers is that there is no passing trade – you decide what you want, go for it and then sign off.

For us, the fact that the pure players saw their share fall this November is further evidence of a shift in strategy from grabbing market share to being profitable.

So farewell then Black Friday

We can now see Black Friday for what it was. Even the US retailers (well, possibly not Amazon) who led seem to have come to their senses as well. The strategy for 2015 was damage limitation and when Asda pulled out we think that many retailers would have cut back on their planned promotions, at least where they could.

Promotions at the end of November should be geared to encouraging customers into the shops to pay full price for Christmas gifts. Diverting spending into special purchase merchandise on low margins always looked misguided and so it has proved. We think that Black Friday promotional activity from now on will be more sensible and more focussed.

And time to be more optimistic about December

Our forecast of 2.5% growth in December is now looking slightly low. When we made it we did not expect Black Friday to be as flat as it was. Given the pent up spending power worth around 1.3% of sales in December we now think that the outcome for December should be between 3.5% and 4% growth on last year.

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