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Black Friday 2019: What happened, where and why?

Thu Dec 05 04:30:00 EST 2019

How was your Black Friday? As Barclaycard data reveals a more than 9 per cent increase in transactions per second compared to last year, we take a look at shifting customer expectations around the event, pressures on small businesses, and what future Novembers may have in store…

Forget Valentine’s Day, Halloween - and maybe even Christmas; for retailers it’s all about Black Friday. Black Friday saw Barclaycard process 1,184 transactions per second between 1-2pm – a record high for the event in the UK. What began as one hectic day of crowds and cut-price TVs has evolved to become one of the, if not the biggest event in the UK shopping calendar; a mammoth shopping spree which has grown to encompass Cyber Monday and beyond.

This year’s figures indicate a significant increase on last year. Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payments, said:

“Between 1pm and 2pm, we recorded 1,184 transactions per second, a Black Friday record. That is a 9 per cent increase over last year’s record of 1,087 transactions per second, also recorded between 1pm and 2pm. The fact that records are continuing to be broken suggests that appetite for Black Friday sales is not abating and that despite many years of strong sales, demand is continuing to rise.”

Not just a day…

With its roots in the US, Black Friday takes place on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. While there are several possible explanations behind the origins of the name, the ‘black’ part supposedly originated in Philadelphia in the early 1950s, where police used the term to describe the heavy traffic and crowds that came out the day after Thanksgiving. Another popular theory suggests that Black Friday marks the point in the year when retailers start to turn a profit, thus going from being ‘in the red’ to ‘in the black’. 

Black Friday’s digital counterpart, Cyber Monday, was coined in 2005 when US businesswoman Ellen Davis noticed a surge in online sales on the Monday after Black Friday weekend. As technology advanced, many sales became a week-long event with activity designed to keep customers coming back to retail channels day after day to check for new deals and sustain sales over time.

Do consumers and businesses care?

According to PWC, over half of the population are reported to be interested in Black Friday. But there are some perceptions regarding the true value of deals seemingly having a massive impact on how and when people choose to shop over the holidays.

For brands, the key issue remains around how to stay competitive and profitable, driving maximum sales around Black Friday without alienating loyal customers who may not care for such events.

What about the SMEs that account for 99.9 per cent of the UK business population? Many feel that Black Friday puts small businesses under strain to offer customers the Black Friday discounts they’ve come to expect. But there are opportunities available enabling small businesses to participate in Black Friday without sacrificing their bottom line.

Having a strong identity and ethos in place is key as many consumers make the move towards buying more consciously; whether that means giving their money to a local business over an online giant, or spending their money on special moments and lasting memories as part of the Christmas experience economy. A diligent approach to local networking, marketing and social media can also work wonders; you may not have the budget for a glossy, three-minute, prime-time TV ad but a little well-designed, well-targeted advertising can go a long way on social media – even on a shoestring budget, in terms of getting your local business seen and heard by local people. Above all, SMEs should endeavour to play to their strengths – concentrating on what their customer base loves about them, rather than trying to match the big-ticket deals being promoted by some of the larger players. This could mean anything from a quirky in-store experience to ethically-sourced products or involvement in the local community.  

What will things look like in the future?

We’ve heard from The Ghost of Black Friday Past, we’ve heard from the present; what about all the Black Fridays still to come? Despite Black Friday’s history in the US – and the impact it has come to have in the UK, the concept is still quite new for many consumers. With businesses seemingly pouring more power and planning into it with each passing year, what does the future hold for this pseudo-holiday?

Online activity is big – and it’s getting bigger. As with most areas of retail, advances in mobile-friendly websites and tech like 5G are making it easier for people to bag their bargains on their commute, at the park or even while watching TV. And those keen to take part will spend £21 more than last year on average.

As with all good products or concepts, there are the inevitable challengers; Prime Day, Manic Monday, Sofa Sunday… all of these up-and-coming ‘sale days’ are giving consumers more choice when it comes to spending their hard-earned cash. However, Black Friday still remains a key part of the calendar for shoppers and retailers alike. As Rob Cameron notes, “Our data shows that consumers have not only been buying more, but also spending more than last year – which will no doubt come as welcome news to the retail sector as the countdown to Christmas gets underway.”