Has Black Friday had its day?

In the past 5 years, the face of Christmas shopping has changed dramatically in the UK. The previous world of two sales peaks, one in December and another in the Jan Sale, has been blown up by the introduction to the UK of Black Friday by US protagonists such as Amazon & Walmart owned Asda. But something seems to be stirring in UK retail that may mean that Black Friday has had its day.

So, what’s happened?

In short, it seems that the bandwagon has stopped rolling. Since the images of shoppers fighting to get into stores first appeared on Black Friday 2014, UK retailers have felt compelled to take part for ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO). But steadily, as the years pass, retailers have been able to analyse the impact of Black Friday on their business and are having the confidence to say that it’s not for them. M&S made the decision in 2017 to not have a Black Friday sale, and this year House of Fraser, Selfridges and John Lewis have joined them. Alongside this, Next has said that no current season products will be discounted for the day, whilst Boots and Debenhams will only be including cosmetics. The tide seems to have turned from a race to the bottom and diluting margins, to retailers concentrating on making Black Friday sustainable.

We also know that not all consumers like Black Friday. When Trinity McQueen asked if people liked or loathed Black Friday, only 1 in 7 (15%) said they loved it, whilst 1 in 5 (20%) said they loathed it. Those aged 55+ are particularly scathing about the event with 70% saying they don’t like it at all. Alongside this, there has been growing cynicism amongst consumers as to whether Black Friday bargains are all they seem. Which? has warned customers that over half of the Black Friday deals available last year were available at a cheaper price in the same retailers at other times of the year, whilst consumers claim that the actual items on Black Friday sale no longer have the wow factor they had in 2013/14.

So, what future does Black Friday have?

The chances are that Black Friday is here to stay in the UK, but it seems as though the sale is moving from adolescence to adulthood. Retailers are becoming savvier to how the sale should work, and no longer throwing something together just because they feel they should. They no longer fear missing out. So, how can those retailers involved in Black Friday make sure it’s successful?

1)      Make sure you appeal to those customers who want to be involved?

The sweet spot target for Black Friday is 18-34 year olds. Our research found that two-thirds of this group (64%) claim to either like or love Black Friday (albeit some can find it frustrating), with a third (37%) actively seeking Black Friday deals. Retailers therefore need to ask themselves, what do I have that I can target this group with? If retailers don’t have anything, then maybe it is time to step away.


2)      Deliver on the excitement


In our research, we explored how peoples’ emotions in relation to shopping change over the build up to Christmas. What we found is that by the time Black Friday comes around, excitement reaches its peak (42% of 18-34 year olds say this) (although there is a significant fall in relaxation and calmness, perhaps reflecting the nature of this short sales period). Retailers therefore need to match this sense of excitement with deals that feel worthwhile. Build the anticipation (maybe with a teaser campaign for the deals that will be available) and include product that genuinely feels like a great offer (i.e. brands & products that people are aware of).

3)      Make it online only?

Black Friday is a disruptor. Not just for retailers but consumers as well. Our research found that compared to other times in the lead up to Christmas, Black Friday is about buying for yourself.


Black Friday therefore acts as a break between two phases of Christmas shopping and breaks what used to be a gradual build up to Christmas Day. Therefore, maybe it would make sense that Black Friday should be online only? Last year in the UK it was reported that online sales on Black Friday were up 11.7% compared to 2016, whilst footfall was down 3.6% in stores. This trend is expected to be continued this year. Making it purely online would mean that stores could be dressed for Christmas and remain that way, removing the Black Friday disruption, whilst the website skin could be changed for a short time before returning to Christmas mode a day later.

 To sum up

Black Friday isn’t going to disappear but there are certainly signs that it is evolving. The mass-market sale that existed five years ago is making way for a more nuanced event where retailers are ‘taking back control’, protecting their profit margins, and ensuring that the event is run on their terms rather than the consumer’s.

 We’ll be running a short survey early next week to review how Black Friday went for consumers. Please contact Nathan Bartlett if you wish to know more details (n.bartlett@trinitymcqueen.com)


Katie Grundy