Black Friday brings UK retailers 'welcome' boost

By Ian Westbrook
BBC Business reporter

Image source, Getty Images

The UK's troubled retail sector has been given a boost by Black Friday promotions, figures indicate.

Barclaycard, which processes nearly £1 of every £3 spent in the UK, says that sales volumes from 25 November to 2 December were up 7.1% compared with 2018, while sales value rose by 16.5%.

"Consumers have not only been buying more, but also spending more than last year," said Barclaycard's Rob Cameron.

"This will no doubt come as welcome news to the retail sector."

It has been a tough year for the retail industry in the UK, with a net 1,234 stores disappearing from Britain's top 500 High Streets in the first six months, according to accountants PwC.

Black Friday, which is an American tradition, started in the UK in 2013, but is remembered for fights breaking out as shoppers hunted for bargains in some stores.

More retailers have taken part in the following years and the sales period has started to stretch out over a long weekend to include Cyber Monday. These days, some retailers offer discounts for a week or more.

Shoppers have also increasingly decided to grab discounted deals online rather than visiting shops themselves.

Footfall across UK High Streets, retail parks and shopping centres fell every year from 2015 to 2018 - with 5% fewer people going out to shop last year compared with 2017, according to data provider Springboard.

However, this year has bucked the trend with a rise of 3.1% in physical shoppers. The highest rise was seen in shopping centres, which attracted 5.2% more visitors than 12 months ago.

Media caption,
The boss of fashion retailer Missguided discusses the importance of Black Friday.

Barclaycard's Mr Cameron said: "Shoppers took full advantage of the discounts on offer. On Black Friday itself, sales volumes were 7.2% higher compared to last year.

"This continued right though to Cyber Monday where we saw sales increase 6.9% compared to 2018 data."

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, commented: "This positive result may well 'seal the deal' for retailers in terms of their commitment to Black Friday moving forward, as they will have claimed shoppers early on in the Christmas trading period, giving them the opportunity to steal a march on their rivals."

The company added that it expected the busiest trading day before Christmas to occur on Saturday 21 December. It also expects football on the three days after Christmas to be busier than on Boxing Day.

Kyle Monk, head of insight and analytics at the British Retail Consortium, said that despite Black Friday being a week closer to Christmas than in 2018, it was still expected to outperform last year.

He added: "It remains to be seen how this change in timings will affect sales over the next few weeks, particularly with the added election disruption that consumers will be contending with."


However, not everybody agrees with the idea of Black Friday.

More than 300 clothing brands in the UK asked shoppers not to buy anything for environmental reasons, and climate protesters also targeted a Brighton shopping centre.

Workers at Amazon distribution centres in France and Germany also used Black Friday to stage a walkout in dispute over pay and conditions.