Don’t you just hanker for the days when you panic bought your Christmas presents at full price with just hours to spare and then offered them up nervously on the big day in the full knowledge they would be returned on Boxing Day and re-bought at half price or just re-gifted, quite possibly to you? Ah, those were the days…
Now, the savvy shopper starts their festive shopping a year ahead during the Boxing Day and January sales and finishes the job before November is out on Black Friday – or if they are feeling brave, they might hold out for the Boxing Day sales, some of which, perplexingly, start before Christmas Day.
Deep discounting has become the norm in the days, weeks, even months, before Christmas. Black Friday has just become a convenient – and less desperate-sounding – new badge for it, and a slightly misleading one at that.
This year, Black Friday should more accurately have been called Black November. It seemed to go on for weeks in some cases and certainly knocked poor old Cyber Monday into a cocked hat. No wonder retailers have hailed the US-born phenomenon as the biggest to date in the UK.
But don’t be fooled by the positive headlines about John Lewis’s record sales or Barclaycard’s estimate that spending was up 8% on 2016. Black Friday is not going to be enough to lift the black clouds gathering over retail at the moment, as we report in our special feature.
Retailers have been having a torrid time of it for a while now and ominously some have not even managed to get through the last-gasp sales period of Christmas before succumbing to the pressure. Multiyork and Feather & Black, both owned by furnishing tycoon Charles Wade, have gone into administration in the past week or so, as has wholesaler P&H.
Don’t be surprised if more follow suit in the coming weeks and months. Retailers selling big-ticket items or operating in the highly competitive world of fast fashion look particularly vulnerable.
Some of the department store retailers don’t look too clever either. After all, why would you go to a concession in a department store when you can shop at the retailer itself, probably online? The only time I’ve bought something recently from a department store is when the concession was selling an item that had sold out through the retailer’s own website.
The brutal truth is that jumping on the deep discounting merry-go-round and clinging on for dear life will produce a short-term gain in terms of sales, but will only lead to long-term pain margins-wise. We’re already perilously close to the point where shoppers simply won’t buy pricier items unless they are discounted.
Retailers need to be way more innovative if they are going to drive full-fat sales and stop their margins from being forever rebased. They could do worse than take a leaf out of restaurant chain Dishoom’s book. The restaurant trade is not an easy sector to be operating in either at the moment, which is why co-founder Shamil Thakrar is trying to do something different at Dishoom’s Kensington restaurant by offering diners an immersive theatre experience.
Retailers have talked the talk when it comes to experiential retail. If they want to thrive rather than merely survive in 2018, they’ll need to walk the walk.