Since bursting on the UK retail scene nearly a decade ago, Black Friday has been pulling December sales forward into November. Back in 2010 the month of November accounted for 9% of total calendar year sales. By 2018, Black Friday had pushed it up to 9.6%. Over those 8 years, November’s sales grew by 51%. Over the same period December’s sales growth was a much more modest 36%. But the real damage was done to bottom lines. Those sales pulled forward were at heavily discounted prices, versus the traditional full fat margins of December.
Black Friday is on 27th November this year. Relatively late, like last year when the event showed all the signs of running out of steam. Last year was different. The trend I have described reversed. November 2019 sales actually fell 2% year-on-year, while December’s increased 4.1%. November’s share fell back to 9% while December’s 13.2% stopped a declining share trend.
This year we are already seeing lots of noise. But with non-essential stores largely shut, online is dominating. And online in any case tends to go from one price promotion to the next. My sense is that the words "Black Friday" have come to mean much less. This is just another in a long line of back-to-back promotions, indistinguishable from one another.
Many retailers are already focused much more on Christmas and the need to hit the ground running when stores reopen on December 2nd. Given huge pressures on cash and recent job losses, it is surprising just how many retailers have gone ahead with high profile TV advertising campaigns. Exactly what return is made on this investment is extremely moot.
Meanwhile, the top of mind questions are likely to be around making the most of what is likely to be soft demand. How to forecast demand to optimise stock allocation? How to price? On the timing of Winter sales – should they be brought forward? Covid has ensured Black Friday is relegated and Christmas sales in December will be critical for inventory and cash going into what promises to be a defining year for many.