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Black Friday in the UK: The Beginning of the End

For decades, the extent of the British public’s knowledge of Black Friday was confined to end-ofNovember news broadcasts, where British families watched with amusement as their American counterparts – full of Thanksgiving turkey – crammed their trolleys through crowded supermarket aisles to the bargain bin. It all seemed rather un-British.

Yet within ten short years, we were hooked. Led by US-owned e-commerce retailers including Amazon and followed by most of the nation’s best-known high-street brands, Black Friday has become one of the most important retail dates of the year. British shoppers splashed out a record £9.4 billion during last year’s event, with similar activity forecast for 2022. Research for the7stars’ Lightbox Lowdown found that 50% of British adults plan to make a purchase in this year’s sales, taking place without any lockdown restrictions for the first time in three years.

Yet the cost-of-living crisis, and shifting consumer attitudes towards spending, suggest some variation to the prior form.

Lines are blurring between Black Friday events and year-round sales. As Black Friday, and its online-only sister event, Cyber Monday, have expanded from single days to whole fortnights, consumers are growing weary of sales events.

As Dr. Jonne Guyt (Professor of Marketing at Amsterdam Business School) explains, much of the appeal of the traditional event lay in successfully finding a ‘steal’ of a deal, to leave the buyer thinking they have ‘beaten the system.’ With such events taking place throughout the year, the allure of Black Friday is vanishing.

Moreover, the transparency of deals has come into question. A YouGov poll from 2020 found that 57% of Britons believed Black Friday discounts were less generous than they first appear. Indeed, a Which? study last year found that 9 in 10 product promotions could be found at the same price or cheaper in the six months preceding Black Friday. As shoppers become savvier to such devices, and with a range of free browser extensions, such as Honey, automating the bargain-hunting process, fewer will take a Black Friday saving at face value.

As the cost of living continues to squeeze household finances, those who do plan to brace the sales this year are tailoring their shopping preferences accordingly. the7stars’ Lightbox Lowdown found that Black Friday shoppers this year are slightly more likely to shop for gifts for others than for themselves, a marked departure from the vanity shopping of previous years. This tracks closely to the growing pool of research into Q4 consumer habits, with Brits spreading the cost of Christmas over several months to ensure they can still celebrate come December.

As outlined in the7stars’ People First in a Crisis whitepaper, brands should strive to display transparency to potential customers, ensuring discounts offered during Black Friday do not appear disingenuous. Furthermore, in recognition of the growing financial pressures faced by millions of households, brands must also approach this year’s sales with integrity, or risk a backlash for being seen to encourage consumers to spend beyond their means.

As the sales bonanzas approach, Black Friday remains critical for British brands. But as shoppers grow savvier, retailers must do so too.