Black Friday – bargains can’t beat experience?

By Georgina Procter

Friday 27 November, is the UK’s tenth Black Friday; the American tradition that was introduced to the UK by Amazon in 2010. However, as with most things this year, Black Friday sales are mostly an online affair.

The pandemic’s impact on retail has been colossal and, despite an easing of restrictions from July, a 28.2 percent decline in UK retail footfall was recorded in the five weeks between 30 August and 3 October 2020, based on data from Springboard. On the flipside of this, 87 percent of UK households made online purchases this year. Indeed, this year’s Black Friday sales are set to be 45 percent higher than in 2019, according to internet industry body IMRG, despite the current lockdown meaning non-essential retail shops have been shut for the last few weeks. What does this mean for physical retail? Will a visit to the local high street or shopping centre be a pre-covid memory as online shopping becomes the future?

Over the past eight months, the retail sector has had to quickly change its operations to survive and work around the transformation in shopping habits, with corner shops and local high streets becoming the saviours of households used to shopping at superstores and city centre retailers. The value of experiences has never been higher, and if retailers continue to highlight their USPs online and in shop windows, customers will come back and enjoy the physical delights of retail therapy. Shopping is a form of escapism, be that online or in-store and customer want to buy into the experience, as well as the product. Black Friday may offer some serious bargains, but it doesn’t offer an enjoyable shopping experience – customers will still have to look elsewhere for that.

However, what is clear is that physical retail needs to evolve if it is to keep up with changing behaviours. An omni-channel approach can be a clear route to success here through the creation of click-and-collect services. At least 80 percent of retail shops offer click-and-collect, an increase of 32 percent since 2019. We’ve also seen large high street names partnering with other retailers to enhance convenience and reach new demographics. For example, the partnership of Sainsbury’s with Dobbies, the British garden centre chain, brought a range of its food and grocery products to Dobbies’ garden centres.

A key lesson from 2020 for all retailers, both online and physical, is the importance of strong engagement with and understanding of your customer. Online shopping has been playing an increasingly important role in the last two decades and it is certainly not going anywhere, but through a seamless omni-channel approach and the offer of something that can’t be accessed online, physical retail also has an important role to play as long as retailers keep their focus on the most important part of sales; the customer.