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Indies cave in to Black Friday discounting

Independent retailers across the UK have given into pressure to discount stock for Black Friday as department stores and multi-brand etailers unveil their deals for the period running up to 24 November.  

Despite an overall reluctance to take part in this year’s event, many independents felt it was impossible to sit it out altogether, as they would be undercut by deals at larger retailers.

House of Fraser kicked off its 11-day Black Friday Sale period online and in store on 17 November with blanket discounts of up to 40% off across womenswear, menswear, handbags and homeware, up to 30% off kidswear and 20% off footwear.

Debenhams had markdowns of up to 50% on selected product types on each day of the week running up to 24 November online and in store.

As well as price matching its competitors, John Lewis was offering online 20% off sportswear brands including Adidas, Nike and Speedo, John Lewis & Co menswear, and outerwear from brands including The North Face and Helly Hansen.

Amazon opened a four-day “Home of Black Friday” pop-up store in central London on 21 November and online its Black Friday Sale ran for 10 days from Friday 17 November. Meanwhile, Asos was offering 60% off women’s shoes and accessories and men’s jeans and chinos this week.

“Any form of discounting isn’t great, but if the department stores are doing it, we have to”, said Ravi Grewal, owner at premium menswear boutique Stuarts London, who said Stuarts will be assigning varying discounts for products based on their performance. “It’s become a kick-starter to Christmas shopping. We’re keeping our fingers crossed it goes well – we’ve done a lot of planning around it.”

Julian Blades, co-owner at north-east premium men’s and women’s wear independent chain Jules B, also felt it was “impossible” for smaller retailers to avoid taking part. He will be running various promotions over the two-week period.

“Everything seems to have started earlier than last year,” he said. “Logistically, it spreads out the amount of business we can do, so it’s easier to facilitate.

”But it’s sad full stop that Black Friday exists at all – it’s altered the dynamic of retailing irreparably. It’s not possible for retailers to sit it out.”

Amy Barker, owner at West Malling in Kent menswear independent Monks & Co, said she would offer 25% off selected items rather than a store-wide discount.

She said: “I’m a bit worried. A lot of the bigger stores are doing Black Friday Sales earlier and for two weeks longer. As an independent, it’s impossible to compete with. So what we’re offering is different.”

Meanwhile, Jake Bland, managing director of Manchester footwear store Jake Shoes, will discount fewer items than in 2016: “For the last two years we’ve done 20% off everything, but this time we’ve only picked 30 shoes to mark down the same amount. I really don’t want to do it – I hate it and don’t agree with it.”

On the flipside, other independents looked forward to the period.

“We’re hoping to be busy, if not busier than last year,” said Neil Vernon, head of menswear retail at Cotswolds independent Dapper Street. There’s been a lot of interest from customers for Black Friday, and we usually see increased footfall in stores as well as online. So I think it’s mostly a positive thing: it’s always good to have some competition, and to keep customers happy.”

Pamela Shiffer will be discounting on Black Friday in her eponymous womenswear boutique in London’s Primrose Hill for the first time this year: “I refused to take part before, but now I’ve changed my mind.

“[Previously] I just didn’t want to go down this route, but now I don’t think it’s such a bad thing – it’s a good way of getting the brand out there, and I think it will drive footfall. There are advantages to it – we shouldn’t turn our nose up at it.”

Other retailers are holding fast against the pressure to mark down any product.

“There will be absolutely no discounting in my business before Christmas,” said Lauren Ferguson, owner of womenswear store Sisters Boutique in Falkirk. “I won’t be doing any reductions. All my stock is new and current, and I’m not interested in losing margin to increase turnover. Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.”

Darren Hoggett, owner of East Anglia independent J&B Menswear, agreed: “We don’t entertain it all, and have nothing to do with it as a company policy. We don’t attract that sort of customer and if we did, it would damage business.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • I think you will find that 'that sort of customer' (how rude!) is in actual fact almost any customer these days. The reason many people have money is because they are canny - no more to say.

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  • Black Friday is Horses for Courses - some retailers need it and some retailers don't.

    The ones that do however, ultimately show a lack of confidence in either the products they are selling or the store itself.

    It takes years to build up a brand, or retailer, yet the damage Black Friday can do can take that away in a heartbeat. Thankfully all retailers aren't daft and take a more methodical, long term approach as opposed to devaluation and vanity turnover figures.

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