Despite its critics, Black Friday remains one of the busiest shopping days of the year in both the US and the UK. And Black Friday alone is no longer enough, as we now have its bedfellow, Cyber Monday, and a whole week of deals surrounding November 25th, to handle. But in a retail climate that is leaning towards all-year-round discounting, do fashion retailers really need another day of deals? The industry’s overall verdict seems to be in a state of flux. In the aftermath of Black Friday and the weeks surrounding it, we took a look at the pros and cons of price-slashing on the high street and beyond.
One might expect to see brick-and-mortar stores popularity slowly fading on Black Friday – not only because of Cyber Monday and the popularity of online shopping as a whole, but also because of recent years alarming reports of in-store hysteria and violence caused by Black Friday shoppers. Why get up early to queue (or argue) in stores when you could just shop the sales from the comfort of your own home? However, in the UK, more shoppers than ever braved their local high streets in lieu of e-commerce ease; footfall in UK high street stores was up 2.8% year on year on Black Friday. Online sales, meanwhile, performed below expectations: ecommerce organisation IMRG has reported that, during the peak Black Friday spending period (21-28 November), £6.45bn was spent online – 5% down on the original forecast.
Diane Wehrle, Marketing and Insights Director for retail performance analysts Springboard, suggested that the high street resurgence could have been caused by consumers’ increased interest in ‘experience’ culture. “Black Friday is still changing ... The overall story seems to be that stores are holding their own and the move towards experience is helping, because once people are out they are more likely to visit a store,” she told Drapers.
For some high street stalwarts, however, online sales were just as successful as those that took place on the shop floor. John Lewis reported record sales over the Black Friday weekend, with total womenswear sales up by 15.1% in the week ending November 26th. During its busiest period, on the morning of Black Friday, Johnlewis.com was taking five orders per second. Another winner was BHS, which saw a 239% increase in sales on November 25th.
It is worth noting that BHS and John Lewis are not fashion-specific stores. Would John Lewis’ fashion sales have risen so much if their clothes weren’t sitting amongst higher-ticket items like TVs and laptops? Black Friday discounts make sense for retailers who are able to offer large, impressive discounts on tech, but is it ethical for fashion brands to cut the prices of their clothes? Arguably not, when their clothes are probably already discounted, anyway – Bain & Company’s annual global luxury study has revealed that discounted luxury goods comprise over 35% of the luxury goods market. In addition, Business of Fashion has cited ‘Discount culture’ as one of its key consumer trends in its recently released The State of Fashion 2017 report, citing promotions and discounts as “the new normal.”
This explains the Black Friday backlash. Research conducted by LCP Consulting has revealed that over 60% of UK retailers now believe that the Black Friday sales period is “unprofitable and unsustainable.” Mid-market brand Jigsaw cited these statistics, as well as obvious ethical concerns, as reason enough to withdraw from Black Friday mania for the second year running, declaring that, “Black Friday warps our perception of what’s valuable and important.” The brand’s CEO, Peter Ruis, explained in a statement: “We buy products for their quality and craft, and quite simply because we love them. We want them to be ethically sourced. We want them honestly priced.”
Fellow British brand Next also announced it would not be discounting its products any further during the Black Friday sales period and, overseas, other brands followed suit. New York-based brand Noah shuttered its doors on Black Friday in protest of mindless consumerism, though it did encourage fans to visit the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia if they did feel the urge to shop on the day. Patagonia won Noah’s seal of approval because it chose to donate 100% of its Black Friday profits to environmental organisations – a bold move, but not completely unsurprising due to consumers becoming more aware of their social responsibility. As Elisa Niemtzow, Director of Consumer Sectors for BSR, put it for the The New York Times, “Consumer consciousness and expectations are evolving regarding corporate environmental issues, especially for millennials. They want their brands to behave responsibly.”
Now would seem like a good time for retail to take stock of the state of consumerism, and address what type of stance they want their business to take.
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