THE BLOG

Black Friday Is Unsustainable (And That Is Good News for Both Shoppers and Businesses)

24/11/2015 10:49 GMT | Updated 23/11/2016 10:12 GMT

One million pounds every three minutes. That is what was spent during last year's Black Friday binge with tills ringing to the tune of £800 million by the end of the day.

Black Friday has been and continues to be a real leveller between large and small retailers. It encourages consumers to go hunting for bargains past the usual national high street and online retailers, who tend to dominate the landscape the rest of the time, due to their advertising budgets.

In a few short years the opening shots in the Christmas shopping war went from being an American curiosity to being the day to grab a bargain. And that appetite doesn't look set to wain with sales this year expected to exceed the £1billion mark.

But by some estimates that number will be spent by (just) 37% of the UK's shoppers, down from 47% in 2014. That is still a huge slice of the market and that cannot be ignored, however, there are retailers who are now turning their back on Black Friday - seemingly by popular consent.

This year Asda joined the likes of Argos, Primark and John Lewis when it announced that it would not be taking part in the real world, as well as virtual, chaos that was plastered across newspaper front pages the following day. The supermarket giant has said that it is due to "shopper fatigue" and that shoppers had told them in no uncertain terms that they didn't want to be held hostage to a single day of sales. However the cynic in me thinks that those same brands have piggy backed the event to still publicise their 'sale offers'.

The alternative plan? Spread the discounts across the Christmas shopping period and possibly further into the New Year. This may seem like an altruistic act, however, in reality this model works much better for businesses too.

After last year's Black Friday bonanza online sales grew by a record low of just 5% in the UK (where there is feast there is also famine). Unfortunately for traditional stores the rise of online retailers, the huge savings offered by Black Friday and the saving mentality after coming out of one of toughest economic climates in a lifetime means that shoppers are savvier than ever.

The risk of losing out on sales, no matter if they are heavily discounted means that the lure of one-off sales days is an itch that must be scratched. However, that one day of sales is bad for both businesses and consumers and is a model that is unsustainable.

Black Friday has gained a reputation for providing real value for the savvy consumers who make the effort to shop specifically on that day. However as this gets diluted, for example by expanding its time frames to a 24 hour event and gets polluted by similar miss-use under the 'Sales' banner, it seems inevitable that consumers may become weary and look for the next genuine bargain round the corner.

Last year staff at bricks and mortar stores were strained to breaking point to deal with fighting crowds - while online systems creaked as millions logged on en-masse meaning digital queues of 20 minutes were reported once people hit the buy button. Even once past the buying stage the added pressure on mail delivery systems meant that some people got orders late, something that consumers find unforgivable in this day and age.

So what would be a more manageable model that allows people to still grab that bargain but also keeps some control in the hands of the companies? As has been done for the past years we should look to the discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl.

Bursting onto the scene during the downturn their general model of selling has found favour with savvy shoppers but it is their sales that could be golden goose for both sides of the till. Throughout the year their flash sales of different product lines offer huge discounts on big brand name products. People get their bargains without being trampled and stores can cope with the demand.

The likelihood is, now that the genie is out of the bottle, Black Friday will stay in one form or another, however, a properly thought out year-long sales strategy will allow customers to do proper research on products and business to cope with the seemingly insatiable thirst for a cheap deal.

Perhaps a lesson for the British public is that they are not always getting the best deal by shopping at the largest shop front, and even when Black Friday may be a distant memory, there are great deals to be found all over the place if you look hard enough.