With Brexit making the UK economy as jittery as a coffee addict outside a closed Starbucks, British retailers have set about turning Black Friday into Black November, which sounds like a 70s terrorist organisation.
In the pre-Christmas retail-fest, Black Friday discounts pillaged from the US have been extended over as much as a fortnight to try to wring every last penny from reluctant shoppers.
There’s good reason. After the vote to leave the EU, the pound has disappeared faster than a wig in a hurricane. This has rocketed the cost of imported goods, meaning higher prices in the shops. Spending power isn’t helped by wage stagnation, now way behind inflation, and the first interest-rate rise since the recession.
Even worse, business-advisory firm BDO LLP reports that October retail sales in the UK were the worst in living memory, over 5% down on 2016. No wonder retailers want to suck away at Christmas shopping budgets ahead of the pack.
There’s tons of stock to shift, so big chains such as Dixon’s Carphone, Curry’s PC World, AO and Halfords kicked off Black Friday promotions earlier. In fact, most of us still had our summer suntans when the first bargains hit the shops.
Not that any of this will help much. A survey by The Royal Bank of Canada (obviously) found that only 16% of 1,000 UK consumers planned on spending more this Black Friday than last year. Twenty-one percent planned to spend less, while 63% were aiming to spend the same as last year.
RBC Analysts have concluded that these survey results and retailers’ bulging warehouses are a ‘marginal negative’ for the sector. That’s corporate speak for a ‘steaming great disaster’. Throw into the mix an earlier payday cycle this season and it’s the perfect storm for Christmas retail.
“The basic idea [of Black Friday] is still great – to stimulate traffic either to your home page or to the stores – and it still works,” says Andreas Inderst of Macquarie Capital. “But if everyone is doing it, it’s getting a bit diluted.”
For online retailers such as Asos, Black Friday has become the cash cow they can milk and milk as they try to compete with Amazon and spread out the Christmas rush over a longer period.
But it’s not just the UK that’s frog-marching its citizens into the real and virtual shops. In Belgium, Zalando has turned Black Friday into Black Friday Week. And, in Germany, tech retail company Saturn is running a ‘Black Week’.
Ve heff vays of making you spend.