UK's Black Friday: e-tail boom, stores quiet, London sees terror false alarm

The UK’s Black Friday weekend got off to a strong start online on November 24, but early evidence suggests that physical store shopping was weaker. 


Store footfall was weaker and a lockdown due to a terrorist false alarm dented West End shopping on Black Friday


While the raft of expected in-depth reports have yet to materialise, specialist footfall tracker Springboard has already said that footfall on Friday itself was down 9.7% across the UK during the peak shopping hours with some regions suffering more than others - Northern Ireland, for instance, fell 12% year-on-year.

Springboard’s marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said visitor traffic to stores on Friday "wasn't great” and added that an extended Black Friday season could be the reason.

She said shoppers are more savvy about the discounts that are available and have also been taking advantage of them in the lead up to last week. Shoppers also expect discounts to continue into this week and early December so feel less pressure to buy on the day.

FALSE ALARM

There had been fears late on Friday afternoon that terrorism would blight the weekend with a mass panic in the West End after an altercation between two men at Oxford Circus Tube Station was magnified into “gunshots’ and “explosions” on social media.

People exited the tube station in a panic, some dropping their shopping on the way.

Shortly before 17:00 shoppers were told to stay in stores and workers were kept in their offices as police, firefighters and ambulances tried to find out what was going on. Those on their way to the shops were told to keep away.

An employee at a major fashion brand’s London told us that she had been preparing to go home when she was told to stay put and it was two hours before she was able to leave.

There has been criticism of the use of social because of the speed at which panic spread, but she also said it was the only way to get information: “It was so strange. We had no information, yet an overload of information. But we genuinely thought there was someone with a gun going into stores and shooting people.”

By 19:00 it was clear that it was a false alarm but what should have been the busiest shopping evening of the year for the West End had been badly disrupted.


Many stores offered big discounts for Black Friday


New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell said: “It is a relief that the activity at Oxford Circus this evening has been confirmed as a false alarm with no serious injuries. The police service acted extremely quickly and efficiently to secure and lockdown the area, demonstrating how incredibly well prepared they are to respond. Retailers, restaurants and businesses also came together to protect the public and their staff.

“This is a very high footfall area and safety and security are number one priorities for everyone working in the district. A police presence remains in the area to support the public. With the lockdown now lifted and reassurance from the police, we look forward to welcoming visitors as usual over the weekend to begin their Christmas shopping.”

E-TAIL BONANZA

Whether the lockdown deterred shoppers on Saturday and Sunday will become clear as figures are released in the next few days. But it’s clear that shoppers did appear to be turning online in large numbers. A number of websites saw slower speeds on Friday morning as emails advertising 50%-off sales reached their target customers. And as e-tail sales picked up, Springboard said footfall to physical stores could be boosted in the days following Black Friday by consumers opting for click-and-collect delivery options.

John Lewis is the first big name to have issued a Black Friday e-update and said that between 09:00 and 10:00 it sold an average of 705 units a minute on johnlewis.com. It added that sales exceeded expectations.

The retailer said traffic to the John Lewis website across all channels was up 4.8% compared to last year. But it was the app which proved the most popular way for customers to shop, with traffic peaking between 13:00 and 14:00, up 92.3% year-on-year. At its distribution centres, the company packed just over 10,000 units an hour - which is up nearly 7% on last year - and at its busiest period from 12:00 to 13:00, this increased to 18,000 units.

But fashion didn’t appear to be among the top items sold. In fact, the number one search term throughout the day was ‘iPad’, which is interesting given that analysts have been unsure of how strong a future tablets have as smartphones get ever-larger. 

For mobile shoppers specifically, the top search term was also 'iPad', whereas the most popular search term for those shopping on the John Lewis app or via desktop was ‘Sonos’.

Beauty was also a big-seller with strong demand for Creed Aventus Eau de Parfum at £207 and Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser at £13.60.

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