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UK bucks Black Friday forecasts

Daniel Lane

Daniel Lane - Fidelity Personal Investing

It looks like we’ve got our shopping mojo back this year, with UK retail performance over Black Friday labelled “outstanding” by Barclaycard.

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Transaction values were up over 16% on last year according to the firm, with overall volumes up 7.2%. For retailers this will come as a welcome relief, in the face of forecasts predicting plateaued interest in the promotional holiday.

Retailers artificially raising prices only to drop them in the sale had been touted as a reason why shoppers might steer clear this year, especially of the high street, in favour of online checkouts. But even the UK’s traditional stores saw a jump in sales this time around. Retail data firm Springboard reported a 3.3% rise on 2018 in shop footfall, with numbers up 6.5% in the nation’s shopping centres.

One reason for the lift could be the date itself. Falling on the final weekday of the month this year means Black Friday came alongside the last payday before Christmas for millions of UK workers. Numbers tracked by Springboard show overall footfall rose strongly at 5pm, which could indicate workers shunned Friday night drinks, instead opting for the sales.

Savvy saving or splurging?

We’ve had a peculiar relationship with Black Friday since it leapt across the pond in 2013 so success at the tills this year will give retailers renewed confidence in its ability to pull in shoppers on this side of the Atlantic.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “This positive result may well seal the deal for retailers in terms of their commitment to Black Friday moving forward, as they will have claimed shoppers early on in the Christmas trading period, giving them the opportunity to steal a march on their rivals.”

Originally a Walmart import, exclusively into Asda stores, UK shoppers took a while to warm to the sales frenzies more commonplace in the US. But, as we’ve come to expect deals from retailers before Christmas they have often been forced to join the party.

Firms have felt the pressure to compete with huge discounts, just to steal market share in some areas, with margins continuing to be squeezed. And while the January sales often gave companies the chance to shift old stock and capitalise on gift vouchers, pre-Christmas money is less frivolous.

This is why it isn’t necessarily just a case of bringing the sales forward. Whereas the Boxing Day sales were a chance to treat yourself, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the days to pick up the all-important Christmas presents (which you might have bought at higher prices anyway).

The dynamic has changed and companies able to offer volume or respond to demand in real time, throughout the festive period, could be in a good place to benefit from here on in.

While the likes of Amazon dominate Black Friday, other firms with hoards of data and the ability to serve consumers with exactly what they need, rather than impulse buys, have a definite advantage. And although shopping centres and high street stores are hanging in there, the sales are starting earlier and earlier, prompting us all to write up our lists and become even more susceptible to online checkout discount codes before we even leave the house.

Important information: The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest. Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Reference to specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell these securities and is included for the purposes of illustration only. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to an authorised financial adviser.

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