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Retailers welcome Black Friday high street revival

The great British high street made a surprise comeback over the Black Friday weekend this year, while online sales performed below expectations.

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Bath was busy on Black Friday

Despite predictions that this year’s Black Friday would largely be an online event, footfall on UK high streets was up 2.8% year on year on Black Friday, which this year fell on 25 November. Across all retail destinations, including shopping centres and retail parks, footfall was up 2%, research firm Springboard reported.

Springboard had previously predicted that footfall would fall by as much as 5%, following last year’s drop of 4.5% from 2014.

“Black Friday is still changing as a retail day,” said Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard. “The overall story seems to be that stores are holding their own and the move towards experience is helping, because once people are out they are more likely to visit a store. Stores are having a bit of a resurgence but there are still big challenges, not least the cost base and margins.”

High street retailers described trading over the weekend as “buoyant”, even if they did not participate in the discounting frenzy.

“Interestingly, customers were out and about, yet the level of discounting was less than last year,” said Fat Face chief executive Anthony Thompson.

“Even though we didn’t have a Sale on we saw a big uplift in footfall on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The high street was definitely the winner this year.”

Peter Ruis, chief executive of Jigsaw, which also refrained from dropping its prices, agreed that stores were busy: “We traded up 11% on the year, so it was a strong week for us. However, the key is how you trade from now until Christmas, so our numbers across five weeks will be the true test.”

John Lewis said Black Friday smashed records to become its biggest ever day of trading. The week to 26 November was also a record breaker, generating sales of £199.8m. Fashion sales were up 4.6% compared with the same week in 2015.

The retailer, which price matched others’ Black Friday discounts, said it traded well both online and in stores. The latter became busier as the weekend progressed, it added. It did not provide profit figures.

Similarly, Shop Direct, which operates brands including Very and Littlewoods, said it recorded its biggest ever week of trading in the week up to and including Black Friday on 25 November, although it has not released figures.

Online sales were up 6.7% year on year on Black Friday, reported retail data group PCA Predict. However, this was a far cry from the 20%-25% uplift forecast for this year’s event and some retailers were left disappointed with the slowdown in growth. 

“It wasn’t great for us,” the managing director of one footwear chain told Drapers. “We went in with a lesser offer over a longer period [Monday to Monday] and, while the run-up to the weekend was good, the weekend itself missed our expectations.

“A lot of our competitors did a blanket 20% or 40% off all stock but we didn’t want to do that,” he added.

The ecommerce director at one multichannel retailer echoed this: “Black Friday was bigger than last year but I would have liked more growth than we saw in the UK. Cyber Monday [on 28 November] was really strong though and much better than last year. It shows that the shape has changed again – maybe because of the split payday.”

But Nitin Passi, chief executive of Missguided, which offered 50% off all stock on Black Friday, said: “Over the weekend we recruited over five times the number of customers we usually do and our sales were significantly higher than our current year-on-year average.”

Luca Marini, chief operating officer at Finery London – which had 30% off everything online – said: “Black Friday weekend saw a huge surge in traffic to our site, peaking on the Friday itself, with sales significantly above last year across all categories.”

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