Black Friday Kicks Off A Digital Christmas Shopping Spree In Britain

Christmas shopping has started early this year—and gone online—partly forced on British consumers by a second month-long lockdown in England that started on November 5. With non-essential retailers closed up and sitting tight, a festive online buying surge is taking place right now in the run up to Black Friday.

Big players had already seen Christmas-related searches rise in October. Marks & Spencer reported they were 80% up on last year as customers went online to M& for seasonal inspiration.

According to new research from independent economics consultancy Retail Economics in partnership with shopping payments group Klarna, 23 million Brits plan to do at least half of their Christmas shopping online—that is more than two in five consumers (43%). And for those planning to take part in Black Friday shopping, this proportion rises to more than two thirds (68%).

The British government today announced that non-essential retail will reopen when the current lockdown ends on December 2, leading to what is hoped will be a rush to physical stores in December.

In the meantime, retailers have naturally pivoted to their online channels to make up for the loss of a month’s worth of in-store sales—and this year, Black Friday is an opportunity that is not being wasted.

Among the biggest High Street names, John Lewis is offering deals that it will price match if shoppers find them cheaper elsewhere, and Sainsbury-owned Argos is promising that ‘Black Friday’ badged products will have some of the retailer’s “lowest ever” prices or price cuts.

In the half year to September 19, Argos’s digital model helped it outperform the general market across seven product categories, particularly furniture and domestic appliances. The strong growth at the retailer, which sells more than 60,000 products online and in-store, indicates just how powerful online shopping and click-and-collect services have become.

Biggest Black Friday ever”

Retail Economics CEO Richard Lim says: “The second lockdown has ensured it will be a digital Christmas this year. The seismic shift towards online will create the biggest Black Friday ever, as savvy shoppers bring forward their Christmas spending to take advantage of discounts. In reality, it will be more like ‘Black November’ this year.”

Spending during the retail bonanza is expected to be concentrated on electricals, apparel and toys—typical of previous years.

Due to the lockdown, online as a proportion of total November retail sales is already on track to reach a record high proportion. Throwing Black Friday into the mix will bump up that share. It was 27.6% in September and 28.5% in October according to the Office of National Statistics.

ONS data also showed that in October there was a large bounce of 7.7% in retail sales by value (excluding automotive fuel) compared to the same month in 2019. However, the unemployment rate is approaching 5% and financial hardship from Covid-19 impacts are having an effect on consumer spending, which is why more shoppers are holding out for Black Friday deals, as the chart to the left shows.

So while Christmas remains a focus, households are expected to cut back on non-essential purchases this November. The survey from Retail Economics estimates that Black Friday consumers will spend an average of £260 during the sales event this year compared to around £285 last year.

Klarna U.K. country lead Alex Marsh expects that Black Friday deals will give consumers a way to make their money go further in the run-up to the 2020 holiday season. “We saw record online adoption earlier in the year and we expect a repeat of that over the coming weeks as British consumers do their Christmas shopping from home,” he said.

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