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What is Black Friday?

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SHD explores the retail phenomenon, Black Friday.

Black Friday is a concept imported from the US where, since the early 2000s, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

Traditionally held the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday in late November, Black Friday has been enthusiastically embraced by bargain-loving British consumers and is now firmly established as one of the biggest shopping days in the UK retail calendar.

But, since Thanksgiving is not celebrated in the UK, there has always been scope to extend Black Friday campaigns and, with many retailers opting to offer deals throughout the month, Britain’s Black Friday is arguably morphing into Black November.

Such is the appeal of a Black Friday deal to the British public that when UK retailers first brought the idea across the pond, police forces had to be called to shops across Britain to deal with crowd control issues, assaults and threatening behavior as well as traffic problems as the prospect of acquiring goods at a discounted price drove some shoppers into a state approaching frenzy.

Of course, for consumers who prefer not to rush to their local high street and join the ‘scrum’ to pick up a Black Friday bargain in person, there is the option of shopping online and internet orders account for around 40 per cent of the UK’s total Black Friday spend.

In 2020, with Covid lockdown restrictions closing ‘non-essential’ swathes of the high street, people had little choice but to stay at home and trawl the internet for enticing Black Friday discounts and, as a result, previous online sales records were comfortably eclipsed.

However, this year online sales growth for the month of November and Black Friday itself will probably be negative. According to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, it could be down as much as 10 per cent for both – due, in part, to the very strong growth experienced in 2020.

This means that, for the first time, less money will be spent online on Black Friday than in the previous year. But this does not mean volumes will be low – they will remain very high and are simply rationalising following the unprecedented increase of 2020.

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The logistics of meeting the surge in Black Friday online orders is, of course, incredibly difficult and the gradual return of the high street is adding to the pressure on supply chains with strained retail warehouses now facing the twin demands of getting pallet loads of replenishment stock to bricks and mortar stores while also fulfilling online orders direct to the consumer.

“Events such as Black Friday result in a brief upsurge in consumer demand - the impact of which on warehouse operations can be considerable,” says Lloyd Arkill, partner at respected logistics public relations consultancy firm AMA PR Ltd.

Lloyd Arkill adds: “Warehouses need to recruit more personnel to help them through the peak, but they only need them for a short while. So the dilemma is do they hire staff early and commit more money and time to training them or recruit them closer to the event which risks augmenting the workforce with undertrained pickers and packers that are more likely to make potentially costly mistakes.”

Charlie Walker, Head of Marketing at Berkshire-based fulfillment specialists, Walker Logistics, believes logistics is the biggest single operational issue to impact on a retailer’s Black Friday performance.

He says: “Get your logistics right and the prospect of a deluge of incoming orders should hold no fear. However, failing to properly pre-plan – either with your in-house packing and dispatch team or, if you use one, with your third party logistics (3PL) fulfillment partner, could result in an outcome that is less than positive.”

But as Black Friday 2021 approaches, various factors, such as the global shortage of freight containers, the well-documented lack of HGV drivers and warehouse staff and, of course, the ongoing pandemic, continue to disrupt many supply chains.

The difficulty and increased costs involved in recruiting extra warehouse staff and bringing in additional materials handling equipment at a time when misfiring global supply chains are reducing the availability of certain imported products has prompted some retail sector watchers to forecast that plenty of previously enthusiastic Black Friday participants will opt to sit out this year’s sale.

So, consumers may not see the kind of widespread ‘aggressive’ discounting they have grown used to. However, with in-person retail back open for business and online Black Friday sales likely to last longer and be bigger than ever, Black Friday looks like it’s here to stay.

Black Friday 2021 takes place on November 26.

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