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Black Friday Comes to U.K., Despite Total Lack of Thanksgiving Day

Retailers Try Everything to Get Consumers to Part With Their Money

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The Brits may not have Thanksgiving, but they do seem to have Black Friday, thanks to retailers who are doing their best to whip consumers into a U.S.-style frenzy of Christmas shopping before December is even upon us.

There is no fighting in the stores -- yet -- but Apple and Amazon are importing their U.S. Black Friday deals to the U.K., and Asda (owned by Walmart) is also joining in. Many of the big department stores are offering 20% off this weekend, including Debenhams, John Lewis and Selfridges, which has reworked Black Friday into a more British "Christmas comes early" sale.

"This shows how online is driving the retail agenda. Apple and Amazon offer deals in the U.S. and they don't want their U.K. customers to feel cheated," said Donald Shields, multichannel strategy director at SapientNitro. "This has obviously come from online – there's no Thanksgiving and no Friday off to go out shopping – but it's picking up momentum in stores as well, and translating into a physical retail event."

Online spending in the U.K. is expected to rise 20% to $8 billion between now and Christmas this year, according to Deloitte, boosted by discounts that start with Black Friday and continue with Cyber Monday -- another shopping event that started in the U.S. Cyber Monday, however, makes more sense in the U.K. because it falls on the first Monday after shoppers have received their November pay packets.

Kevin Gill
Kevin Gill

Kevin Gill, managing creative director of branding and digital agency Start JG, said "It seems a little bit cynical to plug into a U.S. event when we don't have the event that precedes it – are they going to import Thanksgiving next? It's a more natural extension for U.S. retailers like Amazon and Apple, but Debenhams feels a bit of a stretch. If retailers embraced it and did something special it might work, but just offering 20% off is a bit shallow."

The final big discount day in the U.K. is Super Saturday, which refers to the frenzy of panic buying that happens on the Saturday immediately before Christmas. "A few years ago we all understood that sales were post-Christmas, and the pre-Christmas problem wasn't what price you paid, but availability," said Cameron Day, director-business development at the Marketing Store.

More holidays
The U.S. retail invasion is not limited to Black Friday. Halloween and Valentine's Day have become key retail events in the U.K., driven by the way they are marketed in the U.S.

Halloween and Valentine's Day, at least, are part of wider cultural events that have grown culturally in the U.K. Sarah Leccacorvi, client services director at Arc, said, "There can be a perception in the U.K. that everything is bigger and better and more magical in the U.S. I think Black Friday has the potential to take off here, but it will be more category-specific -- big-ticket digital and electrical items."

Asda's October income tracker showed that average U.K. discretionary income is falling, thanks to weak wage growth and rising household bills, leaving retailers grasping at every opportunity to persuade customers to shop with them. Early discounts are now becoming the norm -- whether you label them Black Friday or not -- and digital marketing group RedEye estimates that 43% of shoppers will spend their money before Christmas rather than saving it for the post-Christmas clearance sales this year.

Richard Perks, director of retail research at Mintel, is not impressed by the Black Friday fuss. "The difficulty is that it's a holiday for most people in the U.S., and here it's nothing special at all – the sheer fact we don't have a holiday means there's no chance to develop it over here," he said. "U.S. retailers can be remarkably insular – I can't see why it should take off – they have to adapt to local conditions."

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