Black Friday: Retail Marmite

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

Love it or hate it...this weekend marks the annual frenzy of Black Friday, one of the biggest events in the retail calendar. So what is it all about and what impact is it having on consumer decision-making?

Source: Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

What is Black Friday?

Taking a retail lens, Black Friday derives from the US where the day after Thanksgiving retailers offer big ticket discounts on thousands of product lines. Think of it as the Boxing Day sales but pre-Christmas. With the likes of US companies such as Amazon trading in the UK also, the event has slowly trickled across the pond. Over the past three years the phenomenon has turned into a pinnacle event for retailers. For consumers, it signifies the official start of Christmas shopping season. This year, Black Friday lands on 29th November but keen to capitalise, major UK retailers such as John Lewis have already launched their sales in a bid to make the most of the event.

Testing the Metal of Retailers

The trading quarter in which Black Friday sits is make or break for retail trading and while brands on the UK high street have faced a tough trading year, their hopes are pinned on the Christmas season. For brands, seasonal markdowns and ready-to-spend consumers provide the perfect formula to clear stock and boost trading. But while this is a single weekend in retail land it certainly tests the metal of retail operations as distribution and logistics teams go at full pelt. Retailers are now adopting an omnichannel approach to Black Friday sales meaning that brands will showcase their deals across all channels, so rather than just on the high street you will see it all online too. This means that Cyber Monday while still hugely significant is changing. 


Regardless, the hangover of Black Friday and the Christmas shopping period in general is the surge in returns. This is proving to be a major challenge in the era of omnichannel retailing and partly down to impulse purchasing by consumers. From a consumer decision-making perspective Black Friday provides a prime event for consumers to participate in impulse purchasing. The fear of FOMO (the fear of missing out) which is deep-rooted in our human nature also plays a role as word-of-mouth and marketing communications stimulates our shopping appetite. 

Growing Cynicism & Moving Towards Considered Purchasing

Consumers are becoming increasingly cynical about whether or not the deals offered on Black Friday are truly bargains. Alongside this, consumers are also beginning to question if retailers are simply pushing out old stock or bringing in separate stock to trade during Black Friday. As fashion shoppers in particular become more conscious of their consumption, we will see a shift in consumer decision-making away from impulse shopping and more towards planned buying behaviour. This form of purchasing can be helpful for retailers too - reducing  returns and waste. As a result, I am anticipating that this Black Friday we will see more thoughtful purchasing occur. This weekend's online baskets and wishlists are already fully stocked with consumers ready to click "complete purchase" as soon as the deals become available. Indeed, KPMG highlights that 57% of shoppers who bought during Black Friday claimed that they intentionally delayed purchasing until the sales period in order to avoid paying full price. Although I am confident we will see a shift, shoppers will of course snap up impulse items. Typically in scenarios of impulse purchase consumers are even more sensitive to marketing stimuli in the store environment. Therefore, promotions and signage may still tempt customers to part with their cash while on their way to collect a planned purchase.

My Tips

Plan your purchasing. If you don't need it then don't buy it. If you do buy it then don't get into debt for it. Lastly, remember, a little less scrapping at the supermarket checkout over the last super size TV will bring us all some festive cheer.

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Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in consumer decision-making and omnichannel fashion retail. You can find out more by visiting the homepage or via twitter @drsamlynch

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