Black Friday - mobile and mayhem in the US, not so much in the UK

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 26, 2017
Black Friday was big news for online retail in the US, even if it didn't translate to much attention offline in other parts of the world.

Chaos on Oxford Street - not!

My favorite image from Black Friday was from London, where the assembled mainstream media gathered to capture pictures of the heaving masses of eager bargain hunters piling into the stores as soon as they opened.

One such store was electronics firm Curry’s PC World/Carphone Warehouse, whch opened its Oxford Street doors two hours early on Friday morning to find, er, one man waiting outside - and he’d come to pick up a pre-ordered laptop!

One reason for the lack of brawling, maruading crowds of shoppers is simply that Black Friday isn’t just about the Friday any more. Just as Christmas begins in September when the first mince pies appear on the shelves in supermarkets, so now Black Friday lasts for weeks. One store I saw boasting ‘Black Friday bargains - five weeks only!’ - after which of course the post-Christmas stock clearance sales would kick-in, meaning we’re looking at the best part of two months of discounting.

It was a different story in the US, of course, where the grand Thanksgiving tradition of naked consumerism-meets-physical violence was still manifest in full force. In Alabama, a mall was forced to shut down even before Black Friday officially kicked off at midnight after fighting broke out, while full-grown adult Walmart shoppers went viral on social media after getting into a brawl over a toy car.

More seriously, in Missouri a man was shot outside a mall, while in Houston, one person was shot and one stabbed. Amid the tsunami of Black Friday stats that will be hurtling towards us over the next 48 hours, here’s one to chill the blood - the FBI received 203,086 background-check requests for gun purchases on Friday, up from 185,713 last year, which was itself an all-time high. Gotta grab yourself some gun action at bargain prices!

Online boom

On a more positive note for the beleagured retail sector, US online shopping was booming on Friday. According to data from Adobe Digital Insights, US shoppers parted with $5 billion in spending over a 24 hour period, 16.9% up on last year. Across the 48 hour period taking in Thanksgiving as well - when many physical stores were closed - online sales from the 100 largest US retailers topped out at $7.9 billion, up 18% year-on-year.

It was also a very mobile shopping spree this year with over half of e-commerce traffic coming through smartphones or tablets for the first time. Adobe reports that mobile devices drove 54.3% of visits and 36.9% of revenue on Black Friday itself. Furthermore, 61.1% of visits to retail websites were for mobile devices.

All of that chimes with a statement from Amazon that noted that mobile app orders were up 50% on Thursday compared to Thanksgiving 2016. (Amazon’s shares were up 2% on Friday, which made founder Jeff Bezos a $100 billionaire, the first person to claim that title sincle Microsoft’s Bill Gates back in 1999. Happy Thanksgiving Jeff!)

So what about the traditional department store? Well, bricks-and-mortar store foot fall was down, albeit by less than one percent year-on-year, according to ShopperTrak. All things being equal, that could be chalked up as a win. As Brian Field, Senior Director of Advisory Services, put it:

There has been a significant amount of debate surrounding the shifting importance of brick-and-mortar retail, and the fact that shopper visits remained intact on Black Friday illustrates that physical retail is still highly relevant and, when done right, profitable.

Next up is today’s Cyber Monday splurge. Adobe reckons that we’re looking at around $6.6 billion in new sales today. That would make it the biggest online shopping day in history.

My take

I bought nothing on Friday, online or offline, although I had picked up a couple of things earlier in the week when the Black Friday offers kicked in online. Over the next few days we'll get a lot of data and claims and counterclaims, but those early figures from Adobe Digital suggest that it's been a boom year for online retailers, but it's also clear that the stores still have a role to play. That fits in nicely with the 'learning to love the stores again' meme we've heard time and again this year from retailers.

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