Black Friday 2018 results: The death of the high-street or an opportunity for growth?

11 min read

26 November 2018

Features Editor, Real Business

Black Friday has only just passed, but what did consumers spend and what retailers were the most popular options? And what do these results mean for both e-commerce businesses and the British high-street?

On Friday 23 November, the UK experienced the full weight of the discount retail holiday that was –  Black Friday. But before the dust has even settled on the event, some businesses have already reported impressive sales figures.

But who came out on top? Was it the new kid on the retail block, namely the increasingly-popular digital retailers? Or has the flagging British high-street made a comeback?

The latest reports from Sigma, a user experience agency, show that purchases made on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (today) has given the British retail sector an impressive £7 billion pound cash injection. What’s interesting about this fact is that the majority of these sales came from online purchases.

Further findings show that retail stores didn’t benefit as much from this spending swell.

According to data released by Vend, a retail management platform, in-store retail spending over the Black Friday shopping period this year dropped by 7% compared to 2017. This is despite the fact that overall retail spending increased by as much as 28% compared to the previous weeks. What these statistics show is that spending rises each year on Black Friday, but it’s online retailers that are benefitting most.

So has the end of this year’s Black Friday sales marked the final death knell of the British high-street in favour of online retail? And if so, does this mean that the UK retail economy has changed forever?

Amazon: The big UK winner

The latest reports on Black Friday reveal that online retailers have taken the lion’s share of the Black Friday success. In particular, Amazon experienced a record-breaking Black Friday event in the UK, with British consumers buying as many as 100,000 toys and 60,000 beauty items by mid-morning on the day.

Digital retailers gained a head start

Because the Black Friday event officially started at midnight on Thursday, consumers were able to purchase their goods online, immediately, and from the comfort of their own homes. This meant that they didn’t have to wait for high-street stores to open the following morning, meaning that e-commerce retailers such as Amazon were able to gain a head start on the high-street for Black Friday.

A ‘Black Friday policy’ produces wins for retailers

Online retailers like Amazon take the time to approach Black Friday seriously and often take an entire year to prepare appropriately. With a logistical approach to Black Friday having become an ingrained part of their retail policy, it’s no wonder that this year’s event produced big wins for the company, comments Amazon’s regional operations director in the UK, Yonatan Gal:

“We know our customer wants to get the product faster and faster.” – Yonatan Gal, Amazon

If other retailers, including high-street stores, approach the Black Friday sales as a strategic afterthought, it’s no wonder that consumers will flock to digital retailers, such as Amazon, who offer up deals earlier and in a more easily accessible way.

Research shows a shift in spending habits

UKFast, a hosting provider that has been tracking these early Black Friday results, has also revealed that their site experienced record-breaking spikes in consumer traffic over Black Friday. The provider, that hosts numerous e-commerce and booking platforms, experienced an impressive 30% growth in Black Friday sales compared to last year.

The provider suggests that theirs and Amazon’s results are indicative of a greater shift in retail culture that sees consumers heading online to buy their bargains due to greater levels of flexibility and product accessibility than the high-street can ever hope to offer.

Why are consumers heading online?

It’s simple. Instead of heading to crowded high-streets during one’s lunch break or over the weekend and facing limited stock and a less-than-pleasant retail service experience, consumers can buy their favourite goods online and whenever they want to. Not restricted by high-street opening hours, consumers can order their Black Friday bargains from the comfort of their own homes.

And, with more retail brands investing in an easy-access online presence, consumers have an almost unlimited choice of online brands to choose from.

How you can prepare your business site for Black Friday 2019

UKFast suggests, similarly to Amazon, that businesses should prepare their “online infrastructure” each year to ensure that their websites can accommodate greater traffic surges during retail events such as Black Friday.

Vital to this is maintaining high-quality site speed. The same advice goes for high-street brands, a majority of which have their own e-commerce platforms anyway. They must ensure their site speed doesn’t let their customers down or they will go elsewhere, and most likely, to e-commerce platforms to buy their goods.

Speed is vital

According to statistics compiled by UKFast, over half of consumers accessing a site from a mobile device will leave if the site takes more than three seconds to load.

“Black Friday is an incredible opportunity for online retailers to offer their best deals, but preparation is key. There’s nothing more frustrating than spotting a product you like and clicking through to a website that’s too slow to load.” – Lawrence Jones,UKFast

For retailers, the key to achieving sales based success on Black Friday is establishing an easily accessible mobile site. It’s pointless showcasing great products and enticing deals if your customers have to wait many minutes to buy them. If they do have to wait, they’ll go elsewhere, and to another e-commerce site with a better landing speed:

“Not having the proper infrastructure in place to cope with an influx of traffic is the number one mistake that retailers make at this time of year and there’s always someone that gets caught out.” – Lawrence Jones

Still not sure about how your business site can perform better next year? Check out our practical guide on how to boost your mobile site speed below, and ensure you have a bigger, brighter Black Friday in 2019:

How should physical retailers respond?

However, high-street stores shouldn’t be throwing in the towel just yet.

In the recent budget announcement, chancellor Philip Hammond promised £1.5 billion pounds worth of business rates relief and infrastructure funding for high-street retailers. But how should they make use of the money? The answer? Accelerate what they already have, including upscaling the customer experience in their stores, says Grant Coleman from marketing software specialists, Emarsys:

“For retailers to succeed in the fast-paced, highly competitive market they currently operate in, they must look at implementing a range of tactics in order to secure customers – they can no longer rely on brand loyalty or footfall alone to drive sales, as they once could.”

“The face of shopping has changed and smart retailers are getting ahead by adapting their strategy to meet new demands.”

“Consumers need to get an exceptional (and Instagram-worthy) experience to leave the house and engage with retailers. Apple was the first to understand how to use a physical space to inspire brand loyalty. Smart retailers will make physical stores or pop-ups a destination that acts as a marketing tool as much as a sales tool.”

“Underpinning the new world of retail is data. 84% of customers are now aware that AI is becoming a staple in their shopping experience, and 61% of consumers want offers or recommendations from brands they regularly use to be tailored to them and their interests.”

Combine digital, data and a quality shopping experience

In this day and age, even the most ‘traditional’ high-street retailers have an online presence as well as a physical store.

To stay afloat against e-commerce competitors, they must take a two-pronged approach. The first, train their staff to deliver a stellar customer service in-store and upgrade the physical retail experience through pop-ups and store based events amplified through social media.

The second, ensure their online retail sites are speedy and able to support larger traffic surges that occur around retail events such as Black Friday.

Finally, high-street retailers can combine both elements, meaning they make the most of the data they collect on consumers to ensure they are providing a service that customers want both in-store and online.

If the high-street steps up to the sales challenge created by the dynamism of the e-commerce sector and create a higher quality shopping experience, perhaps there could be room for both the easy access e-commerce world and the personability of the great British high-street in the future.