Can Black Friday save bleak winter for retailers? Consumer confidence and margins will be tested

November kicked off with positive headwinds for retail as commentators predicted record UK Singles Day sales hitting £1.4bn. A record-breaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday seemed sure to follow. 

But with England’s national lockdown from Thursday 5 November comes more uncertainty for retail, bringing consumer confidence and discretional spend down with it. Many retailers who invested heavily in making store operations Covid-secure are commencing discounting early, spreading demand and ensuring delivery systems aren’t overwhelmed. 

Jacqui Baker, Retail Director at RSM UK, said: ‘A ‘Black November’ was always on the cards. Even before England’s national lockdown retailers needed to ensure stores didn’t become overwhelmed with bargain hunters on 27 November and planned to spread discounting over the month. With the new national lockdown in place, the need to spread promotional activity is not just necessary for safety, but also for survival. 

‘But will these drawn out offers produce an uplift in November sales compared to last year? Probably not. News of mass job cuts added to the uncertainty of when lockdown might end have blighted any boost, we’ve seen to consumer confidence. There’s no getting away from the negative impact this will have on sales. 

“Realistically, what we’ll see now are blurred lines between Black Friday, Cyber Monday and discounting through to Christmas and beyond. The one benefit of this for categories like fashion and beauty is that the period will allow them to sell amassed stock accumulated during the first lockdown. But retailers must be careful of customer inertia when it comes to sales activity. The impact on their brand could be devastating not to mention the effect on margins.

“The positive we have to hold on to is news of a vaccine and rumours of extended family get togethers over the festive period. Let’s hope this gives consumers the confidence they need to make Black Friday and festive sales a success.’ 

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