Hawk Incentives: is Black Friday good for the British high street?

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By Peter Dando, director of business development at Hawk Incentives

Black Friday has been a focal point of the UK sales calendar since 2010, when we adopted the US tradition of discounted deals over the last weekend in November. Ever since, popularity has grown year on year and in 2018, spend in the UK alone hit £1.49 billion, according to SaleCycle.com.

Clearly, the negative press that Black Friday has received over the years has not put consumers off browsing the sales, with just over 50%* of people expecting to make a purchase at some point over the weekend. Previous years have left us with memories of frenzied shoppers fighting over products in the store aisles. Now, the vast majority of transactions take place online, displacing the adrenaline of a ‘supermarket sweep’ with a hysteria that leaves you in fear of missing a bargain you’ll never get again (although the reality is, you will!). In fact, Black Friday has become so popular that it’s overtaken the much more British tradition of the Boxing Day sale.

But, is Black Friday good for our beloved British high street or should we just let the American giants such as Amazon and eBay reap the benefits?

From an online perspective, our High Street favourites seem to be rising to the challenge of providing an attractive online proposition. Online is now accounting for over 75% of Black Friday shopping, which is unsurprising given that sales can start from midnight, in the comfort of the consumer’s own home.

Also unsurprisingly, in-store footfall figures are declining. Long gone are the days where we see this push-each-other-out-the-way rush in the physical stores. Just 23% of shoppers who are planning to participate in the sale actually intend to personally visit the shops over the weekend. To combat this, stores need to offer a customer experience that online shopping simply doesn’t replicate – a challenge and investment that many are missing the mark on.

Why play a waiting game?

Many stores have now recognised the need to drive sales in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, with a ‘why wait?’ campaign; deploying deals ahead of time to reel customers into an earlier purchase. Currys PC World is a good example, as tech is a known favourite for Black Friday deals and they’ll need to fight off some stiff competition from much-loved brands like Amazon, Apple and John Lewis.

By prominently displaying printed collateral on practically every surface instore and online, Currys PC World are convincing customers who are probably scoping out their options, to purchase early. To stand out from the crowd, they’re offering a cashback guarantee to customers who have already purchased their tech or white goods, if the price is lower on Black Friday.

Interestingly, two of their biggest competitors, Apple and John Lewis don’t engage in Black Friday promo campaigns ahead of the day. In contrast, Amazon are at the top of their game releasing early flash deals and placing Black Friday banners front and centre on their website and app.

Lost in a sea of marketing?

Black Friday is all about mega discounts, with some retailers feeling the need to slash already low prices, just to stay in the running. Sales of this magnitude are pricing independent businesses out of the market in a society where loyalty goes out of the window and the price tag is the only consideration.

So how do you rise above the rest in an overcrowded inbox at this point of the year? Amazon, by name, is synonymous with Black Friday – they think it through and spend a large proportion of the year prepping for what has become their biggest sales weekend – they simply don’t need a flashy ad campaign.

Inbox of Black Friday emails


This means that other retailers have to work all the harder. Many opt for emails; some go for TV ads. The key is to ensure that an appropriate amount of consideration has been allocated to Black Friday – rushing something out in 10 minutes is never going to adequately compete.

Tesco Mobile have upped their game and were noticeably one of the first retailers this year to launch a multi-channel campaign to alert customers to their early bird deals.

Holding pages with product recommendations and stats from previous years (or tongue-in-cheek survival guides) all work well, so that customers who are curious ahead of time are fully aware that their chosen retailer is participating in this years’ sale. Plus, they’re often given the choice to sign up to the newsletter mailing list – win-win for the retailer.

However, it’s those retailers who choose NOT to participate in the sale that stand out the most. Past examples include those such as Ikea, Primark and B&Q, who argue that their prices offer value all year round, and the likes of M&S & Selfridges who refuse to compromise on their foundation of quality by discounting their goods (even though they have a sale over the same weekend?!). Its therefore interesting to see B&Q entering back into the race this year – perhaps abstaining did more damage than good for the DIY retailer.

A logistical nightmare?

The million-dollar question is whether our stores would encounter the same volume of sales as they cope with on Black Friday, taken as a steady stream in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and over the run up to Christmas? Our stores are applying significant pressure to their supply chain by instilling the expectation that a higher volume of goods will ship in the same timeframe as the day to day amount.

Tech giant Amazon already execute thousands, if not millions of deliveries on a daily basis and whilst Black Friday also gives them a huge uplift in sales, they are able to employ hundreds of temporary staff to cope with the additional fulfilment volume. This is not a strategy that many UK businesses can afford to implement, giving Amazon an even bigger slice of the pie.

Large e-commerce sites also have the technical framework to keep up with the increased traffic to their services. Many of our High Street chains, who are now having to compete online do not have the infrastructure in place to accept the elevated number of hourly visits, there by implementing a queuing system for access into their e-commerce platform – not great for customer UX when speed is such a key element in the sales cycle.

What’s more, the cost to return all the unwanted items bought during the sale will cost UK businesses in the region of £362 million.

Does this mean that the perceived value of Black Friday deals is actually better than the real value? The fact that product prices are ‘cheap’ psychologically drives a consumer to impulsively purchase items they don’t need or items that retailers have previously struggled to sell. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 products are often cheaper just weeks AFTER Black Friday.

Where does it stop?

Black Friday stems from being a 3-day in-store sale after thanksgiving – a holiday celebration that the UK doesn’t observe. Then Cyber Monday was introduced as the day on which all left over deals would ‘go online’; now the deals are stretched out for weeks prior to and following across both physical and digital. After that, we have the run up to Christmas, the Boxing Day sales and then the January sales… the list goes on.

The point here is that there is now a constant expectation to conform to the latest trend. Sales used to be ‘big news’, now they’re an everyday occurrence that can only be de-valuing the products we’re buying.

Are we damaging brand loyalty?

The challenge with major shopping events such as Black Friday is the danger that they can present for retailer loyalty programmes. Brands spend all year building their loyalty database and are at risk of letting these members down during sales pushes. Its paramount to find the balance between making those customers feel special (therefore maintaining their loyalty) but being attractive enough to entice new customers and clever enough to enrol them (willingly) into a programme.

The ideal answer is that businesses utilise the increase in traffic to convert more people into brand advocates, as opposed to simply allowing them to make a one-time purchase that’s based purely on price. The key is proper planning and (compliant) data collection to understand who these potential new advocates are and how to keep them interested.

In terms of leveraging loyalty programmes during sale periods, good strategies include incentivising consumers to invite their friends and family to sign up for the programme, exclusively applying a higher points value to particular items and explicitly rewarding loyalty for those customers who have chosen to shop with their usual brands.

So back to the original question: is Black Friday good for the British high street?

Black Friday seemingly boosts the global economy, but the likes of Amazon draw in far more sales than any of our British traditionals. Whilst there is still a respectable amount spent over this iconic weekend, the huge spike impacts on other sales periods that have historically been the bread and butter of our UK businesses (without the logistical pressure). But it still stands to reason that if our High Street favourites don’t participate, they’ll leave the door wide open for the big players to take even more market share.

So no, Black Friday probably isn’t ‘good’ for our British brands, but the real question is whether they can afford not to throw their hat in the ring.

Peter Dando, director of business development at Hawk Incentives, leads the fore in crafting relationships with new customers and providing them with innovative solutions for their needs.

At Hawk Incentives, we offer value all year round for both B2B and B2C audiences, with many of our products supporting British brands in the retail sector.

Our Voucher Store proposition allows employees and customers of our clients to access an exclusive platform of discounted vouchers, featuring big brand names such as John Lewis, B&Q, Currys PC World and Boots. You’ll also find our own gift cards available to purchase, which are focused on allowing you to give the gift of choice; One4all, Restaurant Choice, Spa Choice, Student Choice to name a few.

Speak to our team about implementing Voucher Store in your business today and provide your employees/customers with the ability to enjoy shopping at their favourite stores, for less.

Fill out the form or call 0207 419 8191 to find out more.