Leeds Business School

All I want for Christmas...this Black Friday

Is the annual hype surrounding Black Friday justified this year? Senior Lecturer Dr Esther Pugh looks at how retailers, consumers and charities are redefining one of the year’s biggest shopping events.

Image of shopping mall

Close your eyes and remember November 2020.

Much of the UK was reaching the end of a 4-week lockdown, with physical shopping restricted to so-called ‘essential’ goods. It has been a long year, but in November 2021 there is a much more positive outlook concerning Covid-19. According to BBC News, more than 80% of UK consumers are double-vaccinated and the booster jab campaign is well and truly up and running.

Attitudes and mindsets have been transformed, and there seems to be a general feeling of optimism which is reflected in consumer behaviour. The desire to party, socialise and shop in bricks and mortar stores on the high street reflects this change. Black Friday is predicted to see a three-fold sales volume increase compared to last year (Klarna 2021). And compared to 2020, this often-discredited fixture on the retail calendar seems to be a little more eagerly anticipated by consumers, who are keen to experience a near-normal Christmas once again.

Total retail sales this year are up 6.4% on 2020, and while online sales have grown rapidly and exponentially, accounting for more than a quarter of all sales, there is a clear determination to get back into real physical stores to experience Christmas (Mintel 2021). There is substantially less fear of covid infection, and the shopping environment is less restrictive which means many physical and psychological barriers to shopping have been removed.

Most British consumers missed the atmosphere of Christmas shopping last year and look forward to experiencing it with family and friends.Younger consumers especially, enjoy in-person browsing, the hustle and bustle, and just ‘being’ in busy shopping venues to soak up the ambience. Therefore retailers need to promote impulse purchases to take advantage of this increased footfall.

While grocery was the winning sector last year, in 2021 customers will shop across a broader number of categories, with fashion, beauty, homewares and entertainment seeing a resurgence, reflecting the return to social gatherings. While Christmas last year was fairly restrained, dominated by loungewear, natural skincare and low-key entertaining in family support bubbles, 2021 will see an explosion of sequins and sparkle, homes newly furnished and accessorised and decked with baubles and lights to impress family and friends.

It is predicted this year that gifting will be transformed, with individuals wishing to express their love and appreciation for the people they hardly saw in 2020. Seeing loved ones opening their presents will enhance the experience, and there is predicted to be a special emphasis on unique and personal gift wrap, and unboxing moments.

Linking Black Friday and Cyber Monday to sustainability may seem an impossible conundrum but environmental and social issues will be a strong consideration this year for many consumers. ‘Secret Santa’ gifts are more likely to be local, responsible and ethically sourced, than cheap, mass-produced and disposable. Extinction Rebellion, COP 26 and the pandemic have converged to make consumers reflect on their throwaway mindset. Local, vegan, and cause-related brands should take full advantage of this. Even the Charity Retail Association have ‘Good Cause Santa Clause’, a Black Friday campaign for shoppers to buy (and donate) gifts in charity shops.

Independents, family-run and local retailers which thrived during Covid-19 will continue to benefit from consumers’ post-pandemic emotional reset. Instead of spending in the big corporate retailers located in the city centres, many individuals will continue to spend in local high streets; in boutiques and small independents, where they perceive their money will benefit the local community, instead of faceless shareholders. More than 50% of British workers are still working, at least partially, from home, according to YouGov (2021) and this provides local, suburban high street retailers a huge opportunity; and you can’t beat the local high street for a festive experience.

Black Friday will play an important role in Christmas shopping in 2021. Yes, to some extent the so-called deals are still viewed with a measure of mistrust, but British consumers are very savvy and will take time to find the best deals. Putting aside their worries about a somewhat uncertain future in 2022 and beyond, they just want to have fun this Christmas and hopefully, put the pandemic behind them.

Dr Esther Pugh

Senior Lecturer / Leeds Business School

Senior Lecturer in Business Strategy and Marketing. My PhD combines Critical Spatial Theory and Consumer Culture Theory in the context of Vintage Fashion Fairs. Future research interests are the role time, space and 'moments' in shopping, the role of physical space and how to improve space to make it more experiential.

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