After Halloween, Black Friday becomes latest UK retailing import from US

LONDON – Halloween and Mother’s Day have become staples of the U.K. shopping calendar. Now Black Friday looks as though it may be the next big retail import from the United States.

Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving is becoming a thing in Britain, too, thanks mainly to the marketing efforts of major retailers.

Online seller Amazon first introduced Black Friday deals to the U.K. in 2010. A steady slew of retailers joined the fray each year, with a significant jump in 2013, when the Asda supermarket chain, owned by Walmart, embraced the event.

This year, it’s gotten even bigger and Black Friday looks to have cemented its place in the U.K. calendar. People are talking about it and promotions are being aired across the media.

“It’s been building for a few years, a lot of retailers have planned their Black Friday strategies and consumers seem to be ready for it,” said Patrick O’Brien, retail analyst at Verdict Research.

The Friday after Thanksgiving has for decades been the biggest shopping day in the U.S. as millions of Americans go in search of bargains and the countdown to Christmas begins in earnest. It is traditionally the day that the average U.S. retailer turns a profit — hence its name.

Given its link to Thanksgiving, it was a particularly U.S. event. That is changing, though, primarily in the U.K., which shares many of the retailing customs and traditions of the U.S., in a way that other European countries, such as France and Germany, don’t.

According to Verdict, retailers’ heavy investment in Black Friday promotions looks set to pay off as awareness of the U.S. retail event reaches an all-time high in the U.K. In its online consumer survey of 10,000 U.K. shoppers, Verdict found that 47 per cent of the U.K.’s shoppers say they will participate in the event. It also found that 61 per cent of women expect to make a purchase.

Many of the U.K.’s leading retailing brand names are planning promotions on Friday. Some, such as supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, are getting involved for the first time. Videogame seller Game is promising “stunning deals and offers that’ll be too hard to resist,” and is opening stores the moment the clocks strike midnight Friday.

According to a survey of firms that sell both online and in-store commissioned by Barclays, one of the country’s biggest banks, 65 per cent of retailers are planning Black Friday promotions, and 69 per cent expect the popularity of Black Friday promotions to gain traction in years ahead.

This is a big change in the U.K.’s shopping habits in the busiest time of the year. Usually in the U.K., the day after Christmas is when retailers make the big promotions. Boxing Day, as it is known, is when your average turkey-stuffed Briton goes in search of bargains.

In these penny-pinched times following years of austerity — and the prospect of many more to come — it’s unsurprising that consumers are on the lookout for bargains in the run-up to Christmas.

Visa Europe thinks the U.K.’s “love affair” with online shopping will reach a new high this Friday and is predicting that 518 million pounds ($813 million) will be spent on its cards, which would make it the biggest day in Visa’s e-commerce history in the U.K.

“This year is also likely to see continued growth in shopping via tablets and smartphones, with commuters using the journey home to shop for their loved ones,” said Kevin Jenkins, managing director at Visa Europe.

The growth in online shopping through a variety of mechanisms is expected to continue in the months and years ahead.

But the change in the U.K.’s shopping habits is unlikely to be a game-changer for retailers, who have spent much of the past few years dealing with the fallout from the financial crisis. Prices have generally risen faster than wages and consumers have sought to reduce their debts and make sure their rainy-day funds don’t get frittered away.

Those factors are likely to strengthen Black Friday’s status as a big retailing event in the U.K.

“Black Friday is here to stay,” said Verdict’s O’Brien.