We’ve heard that despite the build-up, Black Friday was actually a bit of a letdown. Accountancy firm BDO reported that sales were down 4.3% compared to this time last year, with mixed messages and confused discounting strategies contributing to the downturn across all sectors. Analysts suggested shoppers gave the high street the cold shoulder in favour of spending online – £763,000 every minute.
The move to online has seen some of the obvious suspects reap the rewards – Jeff Bezos will happily point critics to the 7.4 million items sold by Amazon on the day, an increase on 5.5 million in 2014. But many stores struggled to cope with such a high quantity of online sales, to the detriment of customer service.
John Lewis though, has managed to come out of the Black Friday frenzy on a high. The first of three peaks of Christmas bumped up sales 4.8% year-on-year and 60% week-on-week to a total of £187.7m in the week. Online sales were also up 15.5% and the retailer said Black Friday was its biggest single day of trading, with sales 11.9% higher than last year.
The pattern of trade for the retailer also suggests that many hardened John Lewis shoppers scoured the site for deals and then braced themselves to visit shops over the weekend when many retailers continued offering discounts. During its peak hour, five items per second passed through John Lewis’s distribution centre, with the company processing 18% more parcels than last year over Black Friday and the following weekend.
‘Black Friday marks the first of the three peaks of Christmas and there was huge anticipation for the day this year and high expectations to meet,’ operations director Dino Rocos, said. The retailer’s success at delivering it for customers was, he added, ‘testament to the work of our partners both on Black Friday itself and in our forward planning’.
Of all the things the UK has adopted from America, Black Friday may not be the most warmly regarded, and that’s before its time-consuming aftermath is considered. Experian-IMRG expects UK retailers to incur costs of around £180m from consumers returning unwanted goods bought during the 24-hour sales period of Black Friday.
One person who has already received an unsolicited John Lewis gift for Christmas is long-suffering Twitter user John Lewis, who unwrapped a tongue-in-cheek telescope from the retailer. The present was in thanks for his painstaking patience in redirecting mistaken users of the site when they messaged him with queries for the retailer. He gets particularly swamped come November, when the annual furore surrounding the John Lewis Christmas ad starts up. So, having seen enough screenshots, messages and videos about the Man on the Moon advert to last him a lifetime, a telescope is probably exactly what he wanted for Christmas.
The John Lewis team at least will probably be giving themselves a smug pat on the back for the record sales, with consumers stockpiling home appliances, technology and women’s fashion in particular – though no word yet on whether telescope sales are up.