The implication for retailers is that shoppers don’t always trust that they will be getting the lowest price during Black Friday sales.

Black Friday is here to stay, but it’s not all plain sailing

Shoppers love bargains and retailers love sales, so it sounds like a perfect match.

Black Friday, the American shopping import where retailers discount selected items, increasingly represents the official push towards the Christmas shopping season. However, concerns about whether bargains really are as they seem, combined with structural issues continue to keep it from being fully embraced within the UK, according to academics from the University of Exeter Business School.

“Black Friday lacks the traditional holiday weekend associated with its origins in the United States,” said Dr Alex Thompson, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, who is also American.

“In the US Black Friday comes the day after Thanksgiving and is also a holiday. Many families make a sport of getting up early therefore and targeting the best bargains – much like Boxing Day sales in the UK. The UK Black Friday lacks this ritualistic family characteristic and is just a normal work and school day.”

UK consumers are also some of the most cynical in the world and don’t always trust brands to uphold their promises. According to a 2016 report by the WPP agency Cohn and Wolfe, only 7% of UK consumers describe brands as ‘open and honest,’ which was among the lowest rating across 14 global markets. The implication for retailers is that shoppers don’t always trust that they will be getting the lowest price during Black Friday sales.

“During Black Friday, there are more customers, but they are more likely to go the stores that appear to be giving better deals. This forces stores to compete by offering sales as well,” said Professor Todd Kaplan, Professor of Economics and a fellow American.

“That said, there can be benefits to the retailer. If you’ve had your eye on a pair of shoes and the store has advertised “sales up to 40%” you’ll look to see if they’re included in the sale. You might be lucky and get a good price but a shopper’s hopes can be built up so much they end up buying the shoes whatever the price.”

Professor Philip Stern, Professor of Marketing said that research showed that Black Friday didn’t always represent the best customer value.  

“There is no doubt that there are bargains to be had though,” he added. “Many people use the opportunity to buy Christmas presents early, but if you look you can buy virtually anything you can think of including cars and cruises.”

Professor Stern recommends that shoppers as themselves the following questions and if the answer is no, consider waiting until the answer is yes:

  • Am I in the market to purchase something specific?
  • Do I need it immediately?
  • Do I have the cash to spend?

While Black Friday has raised consumer awareness to get out there and shop, many prefer to buy online, which has had a knock-on effect.

“Retailers are less concerned about whether people buy from their stores or online shop, but online shopping does make it easier for consumers to quickly compare prices,” added Dr Thompson.

“It’s far easier to browse different websites than it is to walk from store to store to compare prices and that can drive sales to competitors. Of course, some big retailers like M&S have eschewed Black Friday all together and some consumers prefer to avoid the rush.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for retailers. Those who fully embrace it will see higher pedestrian traffic and sales. For consumers there are real bargains to be had, especially within electronics and durable household goods. By extending the weekend to Cyber Monday, UK retailers can entice customers to browse in their stores or online and convert it into increased sales in that all important run up to Christmas.

Date: 22 November 2018

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