Slow start for Black Friday in UK after days of early bargains

Black Friday fever has been dampened by days of early discounts, with many online and high street shoppers choosing to stay in bed rather than battle for bargains in the early hours.

The number of shoppers online between midnight and 7am was 24% lower than last year, according to the e-commerce trends service PCA Predict, after an 11% rise in shopping over the previous week.

“This longer sales period has shifted the emphasis away from Black Friday being a major retail event in its own right, towards becoming part of a pre-Christmas mini-season or ‘golden quarter’ for retailers,” said Chris Boaz, ‎the head of marketing at PCA Predict.

Evidence of a slow start in the UK to the US-inspired discount day was also seen on the high street as retail experts said there were empty stores at chains which had opened early to prepare for queues of bargain hunters.

Gordon McKinnon, the operations director at the shopping centre group Intu, which owns Manchester’s Trafford Centre and the Metrocentre in Gateshead, said: “Black Friday has a more relaxed feel in the UK, as shoppers visit stores at their leisure before numbers pick up later in the day. If previous years’ patterns are anything to go by, we’re expecting the day to get busier and hit a peak this evening when those finishing work will join the hunt for deals. By the end of today, we should have seen well above 1 million shoppers through our doors.”

While Friday morning was quiet, Boaz said there had been a huge surge in online sales on Thursday evening as people tried to beat the rush to snap up the best deals.

Argos said its website had a record number of shoppers in the first four hours of its Black Friday sale, with more than 2m visits between 9pm on Thursday and 1am on Friday. The retailer said it had dealt with 13,000 customers every minute in the peak hour from 9pm, 1,000 more a minute than last year’s peak.

John Lewis admitted its online store had crashed for a short period on Thursday as shoppers searched for bargains as the department store price-matched rivals’ early Black Friday offers.

With household finances tight this year, retailers are hoping a discount frenzy will persuade shoppers to open their wallets.

Fashion retailers are hoping Black Friday will help them clear stocks of coats and knitwear after a warm October hit sales.

The analyst Tony Shiret said Next’s offer of 70% off all Black Friday lines “highlights likely continuing weak sales performance” and demonstrated the retailer was struggling to clear stock in its usual end-of-season sales.

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