Black Friday 2020: Record breaker or lost cause? Here’s what the experts say


Black Friday is finally here, but like almost everything this year, it promises to be a totally different beast from previous events.

This year the sales extravaganza, which traditionally marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, is predicted to break records for both sales and the level of discounting.

With the UK remaining under national lockdown and the US continuing to break records for new coronavirus cases, the vast majority of sales are expected to take place online this year for the first time.

In the UK sales are predicted to top £750 million today alone, while online orders in the US are on course to jump 40 per cent compared to last year.

According to experts this is both a blessing and a curse for the retail sector.

Charged has collected key insights, predictions and analysis from leading experts across the industry so you know what to expect.

Kyle Monk, head of insight and analytics, the British Retail Consortium

“This Black Friday has the potential to be the biggest yet, sitting one week closer to Christmas and coming just after pay day for a lot of people.

“Nonetheless, it poses a dilemma for retailers this year, who must weigh up whether significantly reduced margins are worth the additional volume when deciding on the discounts they will offer, particularly given that stores are closed this year and that online performance this golden quarter might be make or break for some.”

Dr Gordon Fletcher, retail expert from the University of Salford Business School

“Building on the trend from the last few years this Friday itself has become more of a vague marker in the sand rather than being the start (or end) of anything. With restrictions on in-store shopping many retailers have had their Black Friday offers already online or available for collection for a week or longer.

“Without the iconic picture of queuing crowds outside an anchor tenant on the high street there is a sense of clarity and order in this year’s bargain hunt. With no prospect of any office parties and until recently no clarity over who will be able to meet over Christmas some of the online contemporary fashion retailers have gone particularly large with 70% discounts on their range.

“The regular cycle of introducing new technology – such as mobile phones and games consoles – means that substantial offers are available to buy the older generation of kit and for Amazon’s own range of devices.

“With many already embracing the hope that the festive season brings there is a chance to focus on the reality of the deals themselves in this year’s Black Friday. There are genuine offers to be found, but without the pressure of crowds pushing people to rash purchases there is also the opportunity for careful comparison and to potentially take advantage of the price match offer made by other retailers.”

READ MORE: Lockdown Black Friday must be “halted in its tracks” to avoid delivery chaos and £1.3bn loss

David Lloyd, general manager for the UK, Nordics and Netherlands, Alibaba Group

The pandemic has accelerated the move to online, and shifted consumer shopping psychology. With social restrictions in place, shopping is no longer just about the transaction and the product, but a form of entertainment, and even a social occasion.

“Shopper expectations are at an all-time high – not just around the basics of a nice website and fast delivery – but for unique, stand-out brand experiences. Looking ahead to next year, retailers have no option but to raise their digital game.

“We must find new and innovative ways to connect with customers all year round and turbo-charge the potential of shopping moments such as Black Friday, making them truly immersive and interactive online festivals, packed with entertainment, surprise, anticipation and intrigue.”

Rob Cameron, CEO, Barclaycard Payments

“Black Friday has always been a primarily in-store event. In a typical year, about 2/3 of the transactions we process on Black Friday come from in-store sales, with the rest coming from online.

“This year, with non-essential businesses unable to open across large parts of the UK, and retailers spreading out their online deals throughout the month to avoid a bottleneck, it’s no surprise that transaction volumes are not living up to last year’s record-breaking highs.

“Instead, we predict that Wednesday 2nd December – the end of the national lockdown in England – will see a surge of shoppers heading back to the high street to hunt for bargains in-store, with transactions likely surpassing what we’re seeing today. As a result, the milestone that retailers should start focusing on is not Black Friday, but Black Wednesday.”

Silvia Rindone, EY UK & Ireland Retail Partner

“Once a big event for the retail industry, the reality is that Black Friday’s significance has diminished.

“This year, retailers have brought offers forward due to the national restrictions put in place in earlier this month so it’s unlikely there will be significant new discounts this week. The most recent EY Future Consumer Index found that only 38% of UK consumers were planning to participate in big shopping or sales events like Black Friday this year.

“Now, retailers need to look beyond festive deals in order to aim for recovery and a positive start to 2021. What would have been a 10-year transition from physical to online sales has happened in less than a year, and retailers need to understand and adapt to likely permanent shifts in consumer behaviour.”

Paul Kirkland, director of retail and hospitality, Fujitsu UK

“Black Friday will be a somewhat muted event in the UK this year. While it is traditionally seen as an opportunity for retailers to entice shoppers with discounts, the national lockdown has left high streets empty.

“With most Black Friday transactions set to take place online, retailers must ensure they are prepared for the uptick in demand. If retailers are managing their own online marketplaces, supply chains and delivery networks must be able to cope with the additional strains caused by the peak period.

“An alternative is to partner with online marketplaces such as Amazon that have ready-made infrastructure built to cope with high online shopping demand. There will be a huge amount of activity on those platforms, which could help retailers expand their reach beyond their traditional customer base.”

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