Britons chase Black Friday bargains

British retailers brace for a rush of shoppers on the hunt for pre-Christmas bargains on Black Friday.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (NOVEMBER 27, 2015) (ITN) – Britain’s shopping streets, out-of-town malls and websites will be awash with discounted goods on Friday as shoppers chase “Black Friday” deals in a spending frenzy expected to top last year’s record level.

Retailers will be hoping the one-off promotions will kick-start Christmas trading after a weak November when, according to an industry survey published on Tuesday, sales grew at the slowest rate in nine months.

That will mean managing the event better than last year, when a surge in low-margin Black Friday sales was followed by weaker-than-expected demand, as shoppers held back in the hope of more discounts as well as traditional post-Christmas sales.

One shopper came down early from Brimingham in the north of England to avoid the rush.

“I came at 8 and no one was here so I got to the front of the queues,” she said.

Another shopper travelled into London early but was left disappointed.

“I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning, caught the 6.08 train from Slough to Paddington, I thought Oxford Street it’s going to be amazing but no, I went into Selfridges and absolutely nothing,” the man said.

In the United States, Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, was so named because spending would pick up and retailers would traditionally begin to turn a profit for the year – moving from the red into the black.

Introduced in Britain in 2010 by U.S. online retailer Amazon, the day has developed into an important fixture of the UK shopping calendar as more and more chains join in.

According to a survey by Barclays, some 77 percent of UK retailers are holding Black Friday promotions.

“Online and instore, everything is exactly the same, the prices the offers are exactly the same. So we are expecting 5,000 new customers a mintue, peak times today on Black Friday, and probably 10 orders per second at peak times online,” said the manager of one London branch of Currys/PC World.

Retail researcher Conlumino is forecasting the event will generate UK sales, both in stores and online, of 1.6 billion pounds ($2.4 billion), up 20 percent on 2014.

However, after last year’s event caused long queues and sparked brawls in stores as shoppers sought bargains, it may be more of an online event this year.

“Consumers generally are shopping more online than offline for Black Friday, it’s sort of a way to kind of get a feel for things and get started before they hit the stores. Mobile is going to play an incredible role on Black Friday. A lot of retailers including Amazon are pushing through deals primarily through mobile. So if you’re not checking your mobile device you are going to lose out on some great deals,” said Shannon Edwards, CEO of STYLOKO.COM.

Researcher FootFall reckons Black Friday in-store shopper numbers will be down by up to 4 percent year-on-year, also impacted by some retailers – including Amazon, Argos, Marks & Spencer and Dixons Carphone – elongating Black Friday activity beyond a single day of discounts.

This year, Amazon is offering more than 7,000 deals over the course of a week, while Dixons Carphone is offering over 3,000 deals over 10 days.

At Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, Black Friday started on its website at midnight, while doors will open at 250 of its largest stores earlier than normal at 0500 GMT.

The supermarket is offering over 200 electrical, entertainment and mobile products with discounts of up to 70 percent. Standout offers include a Digihome 49 inch large screen TV for 199 pounds, saving 150 pounds.

Panmure Gordon’s Chief Economist Simon French said the best prepared retailers stood to reap the highest rewards.

“Always in this situation there will be winners and losers and those with the best IT infrastructure, those with the best marketing, those able to deal with the huge spike in volumes you get on Black Friday can really win through this process but those poorly prepared will find that it is a very difficult trading period for them to operate in.”

Despite the publicity, some analysts are wary of the impact of the discounts on retailers’ pricing power, pointing out that some of chains which shunned the event last year, such as clothing retailers Next and Jigsaw, were among the best Christmas performers.