My overfilled inbox has been assaulted over the past week by endless emails containing analysis of the sales done on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the weekend in between.
The inescapable conclusion of all this breathless counting and number-crunching is that UK consumers do like a bargain. Well, well, what a revelation that is.
I was disappointed to hear from a number of experienced retailers who really should know better that they were being ‘forced’ to offer deals last weekend because everyone else was. Of course they weren’t forced. They just had to admit their offer was not strong enough to compete at full price. Well done to Next, Reiss and Paul Smith for standing aloof from the unseemly scrum.
As a department store pal pointed out to me, however, there is a strong argument for selling knitwear at 20% off on November 28 rather than selling it at 50% off on December 26. Despite the many researchers’ zeal in casting and recasting their Black Friday spreadsheets, the truth is that the real impact and cost of this weird American import will not be known and cannot be assessed until the early part of January. Only then can the astonishing sales of the past weekend be compared against the typical trading pattern of the ‘traditional’ Christmas and Sale period.
We will then know if the money taken on fashion over the crazy four days has added to or merely transferred the normal pot of spending. A friend of mine who works for one of the larger online players reminded me with some persistence this week that retailing is supposed to be about making margin, not making sales. Giving stuff away at a low cost, I was advised, is like eating soup with a fork; you are very busy but don’t feel very satisfied by the activity.
Talking of activity, I suppose one has to give at least two cheers to the news in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement that a review of the current business rates system is to be undertaken, with the idea of the present indefensible methodology being replaced by something modelled on a sales tax. At the time of writing, the timetable for such long-overdue reform was unclear. Let’s hope it is not one of those initiatives that gets shoved into a drawer as pre-election fever hots up.
At the Drapers Fashion Forum on November 27, views were mixed about economic prospects for 2015 and the knock-on effect this might have on consumer spending. Most of our speakers declared that they thought the situation would continue to get better, while remaining challenging. A small minority shared my view - sorry about this - that things could get worse again next year. I remain unconvinced that our economy is getting stronger - the deficit is up harshly, George Osborne admitted this week - and the more-than-four-month wait for the general election will be a period of political inertia and economic uncertainty. I suspect even people with money may hang on to it until they know who will be running the country.
Drapers’ view on the people who run fashion retailing in the UK is revealed in our cover feature this week, The Top 100 2014. Putting this together is a huge task so well done to my colleagues for their efforts, especially features editor James Knowles, who has been the principal ringmaster. Our annual survey of the powerful centurions is an opinion piece, rather than a scientific analysis, and we hope it will stimulate debate. I look forward to hearing your views on this year’s listing.