Why Black Friday is bleak Friday for Britain's high street shops

Shoppers are expected to spend £7.5bn but most of that will be online

A pedestrian walks along a near-deserted street in central London on November 27, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England.  England will return to a regional tiered system when the national stay-at-home order ends on December 2, and 23.3 million residents in the worst-hit areas are set to enter the "very high" alert level. / AFP / Tolga Akmen

British shoppers are expected to spend £7.5 billion ($9.99bn) over the three-day Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend, with £2.83 million spent every minute, but high street stores shut during the lockdown will lose out.

Spending in online stores will hit £5.75bn, a 53 per cent rise from the £3.77bn spent for the same weekend a year ago, according to a Shopping for Christmas 2020 report carried out by Vouchercodes.co.uk and the Centre for Retail Research.

The picture is much bleaker for high street stores, which are expected to see spending drop to £1.74bn, 63.7 per cent less than the £4.79bn pulled in last year.

“The new lockdown measures have certainly shaken the bricks-and-mortar retail sector for a second time this year, and this year’s Black Friday will be a very different picture to the hordes of shoppers we so commonly associate with the weekend,” said Anita Naik of VoucherCodes.co.uk.

Black Friday, a US tradition where shops and online stores cut prices ahead to lure Christmas shoppers, began in 2013 in the UK.

Since then it has become a feature online and offline with hordes of shoppers queuing up to bag bargains.

This year, however, high streets across the country are deserted because shoppers are still closed under strict lockdown measures that are set to relax slightly in some areas on December 3.

Some big retailers, including Marks & Spencer and Next, have decided not to take part, instead choosing to offer deals throughout the festive season to avoid excessive crowds.

Next’s decision comes after it reported in-shop sales have been badly affected by the crisis, at about half of what they were by this time last year.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer will be looking for a festive upswing in sales after it suffered its first-ever pre-tax loss of £87.6m ($113.43 million) in the first half of the year, as Covid-19 hit clothing and homeware sales.

A pedestrian wearing a protective face covering to combat the spread of the coronavirus, walks past a sign for "Black Friday Deals" in the window of a shop in central London on November 27, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England.  England will return to a regional tiered system when the national stay-at-home order ends on December 2, and 23.3 million residents in the worst-hit areas are set to enter the "very high" alert level. / AFP / Tolga Akmen

UK experts have warned that many Black Friday deals in the UK are not what they seem, as 85 per cent of products promoted as deals in last year’s event had already been on sale at the same price or cheaper in the weeks before.

The consumer champion Which? tracked the prices of 219 products advertised as Black Friday deals across retailers including Amazon, Argos, Currys and John Lewis and found only 3 per cent were at their cheapest price of the year on Black Friday.

“Deals that look too good to be true often are, so don’t fall for time-limited offers,” said Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which?

Searches for online offers have soared during the second lockdown, according to The Bargain Hunters Society, which found searches for “free shipping” increased 22 per cent, “free trial” rose 32 per cent and “cheap clothes” were up 46 per cent, as Britons flocked to online retailers instead of the high street.

The report also warned that an influx of customers over Black Friday increases the likelihood of scammers setting up fake sites offering mock discounts.

Shoppers should check a website is secure by looking for the padlock symbol in the browser and avoid drastic cuts, such as 80 per cent off, it said.

While some studies expect Black Friday takings to be the highest on record, Britain’s biggest building society Nationwide expects transactions will drop by up to 20 per cent because of the second lockdown.

Using debit card spending data, it expects its members to make more than 6.5 million transactions on Black Friday, down from the 8 million it predicted prior to the second national lockdown.

This would be the first drop since Black Friday started in the country. However, Nationwide said nearly two-thirds of people have delayed purchasing items in order to snap up a bargain this weekend, with 51 per cent using it as a chance to buy discounted Christmas presents.

UK retail sales rebounded for the sixth consecutive month in October, rising 1.2 per cent on the month as consumers brought their Christmas shopping forward. However, the slow recovery in clothing sales stalled after five consecutive months of increased sales, with analysts expecting online sales to rise again in November but overall retail sales to fall.

Tom Holder of the British Retail Consortium said it is a "very hard time" for physical retailers with the BRC estimating that non-essential retailers have lost £2 billion ($2.67bn) in sales over the course of the lockdown,

“This lockdown will sadly cost some jobs and shops. It is something which has been very destructive for those retailers,” he said.

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