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Black Friday’s black magic isn’t wearing off as shoppers get more savvy

By Laurna Woods

Black Friday’s upon us – and it has been for the best part of a week. And Britain’s savvy shoppers are taking advantage of this seasonal retail marketing extravaganza, to the tune of £10 billion if the estimates are to be believed.

Gone are the scenes that followed Black Friday’s initial arrival on British stores. There’s no queues out the doors of the nation’s malls as shoppers wait eagerly to tick items off their Christmas lists, nobody fighting over flat-screen TVs in the aisle of Asda.

Shocking as those fights were, they placed the US import in the consciousness of British buyers. But there was a backlash, and rightly so, against this display of greed.

Spreading the festival of spending out over a week has certainly had an impact as consumers realise there’s no real rush to get deals.

Instead, people are being more careful about what they buy and where they buy it. They seem to be following money saving expert Martin Lewis’s mantra that you should only shell out for something you would have bought anyway.

And the evidence is pointing to a further switch to using online channels instead of bricks and mortar stores. Argos, for example, said 50 per cent of its sales this morning were on mobile, up from 40 per cent last year. Amazon said shoppers were “spending at record levels”.

Meanwhile, there were claims we were buying more but spending less. Barclaycard said the volume of transactions on its credit cards was up on last year – but the total spend was down. The fact credit card spending was down could reflect broader concerns about the potential impact of Brexit, though.

Or perhaps shoppers are heeding the warning from Which? that they should check that their bargain really is a bargain. The consumer magazine tracked prices of items in 2017’s Black Friday sales for a year and found that 87 per cent were actually cheaper at times after the special offer ended.

As Lewis points out, discount codes that offer money off on purchases throughout a store – online or offline – are a far better proposition for customers than money off a product that might have been bought in specifically for the sale.

Perhaps shoppers are seeing Black Friday as a retail marketing campaign that’s not all it seems, and that by turning to search engines and price comparison sites they can get the deal they want when they want. And if they want to actually hit the high street, they’ve got all weekend to do it in.

What is also striking is the brands that steadfastly refuse to take part. While John Lewis – with its Never Knowingly Undersold mantra – is pretty much obliged to join in, B&Q and Marks & Spencer have sidestepped it, albeit M&S does have some promotions on.

Ethical and sustainable shopping

Meanwhile, special interest groups such as Greenpeace and Fairtrade have questioned the need to spend for spending’s sake and asked people to shop ethically and sustainably.

Some smaller brands – like the online T-shirt store Last Exit to Nowhere, beloved by some of my geek-obsessed colleagues – have come out even harder. It is “having a cup of tea and waiting for this thing to blow over” as it advocates its own “Buy Nothing Day”.

That public relations message doesn’t seem to be cutting it with shoppers, however. In fact, it’s estimated we’ll spend £220 each today. And when you consider the fact that one survey found only half of us will actually hunt down a Black Friday deal, that’s astonishing.

So what do I see in the future? Well, Black Friday’s not going to go away. But brands advocating it are going to have to continue to evolve their offerings to keep up with consumers who know it’s a retail marketing trick and have the savvy to seek out the true bargains.

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