It’s that time of year again; the weather’s miserable, tear jerking Christmas ads are back on the telly, and everyone in British retail is trying to decide what to do about Black Friday.

This year, there’s definitely a bit of Black Friday backlash in the air.  

Fuelled by snobbery and perhaps a British stiff upper lip, some Marketing Directors seem to think it’s all a bit tactical and beneath them.  

Others are just counting the death toll resulting from all this madness. For a chilling glimpse at the collateral damage of retail rage look no further than 

For or against Black Friday?

In reality the arguments for and against UK brands observing Black Friday are finely balanced. Some of the naysayers, like John Lewis’s Andy Street, really do have a point:

It is not in the industry’s interest to focus so much trade onto one day. You want more steady trade and obviously you want more of it at full price.

But as Black Friday looms and retailers anxiously wait to see what will happen, it’s worth considering the arguments on both sides:

The case for getting stuck in 

  • It’s hard to ignore. Black Friday is predicted to be a £1bn trading day (Salmon, Experian and IMRG all say so).
  • Consumers love it. 96% of Black Friday’s 2014 purchasers said they were happy or very happy with what they bought (via Retail Week).
  • It’s the big one! IMRG estimated £810m was spent online on Black Friday last year – the biggest ever day for UK online sales. For those that missed the analysis Econsultancy and Hitwise did last year, here are the Black Friday traffic statistics for all major UK retailers.

  • It’s a global gold rush. Not just in the UK and US. The phenomenon in spreading to Asia and Africa; a client of ours in Nigeria received a staggering 1,440% year-on-year increase in online revenue with a domestic version of Black Friday activity.  
  • The big spenders will be out in force. Luxury consumers are 4.7x more likely to search for Black Friday (Experian).
  • Don’t disappoint. You risk disappointing your customers if you don’t engage.

The case for holding back

  • Black Friday cannibalises Christmas sales. According to e-Digital Research 30% of UK online shoppers say they’ll buy on 27 November this year - compared to 8% last year.
  • Margin. What’s the cost? If you go for it, sales might increase, but will consumers ultimately spend more? Discounting often comes at a cost to margin.
  • For retailers demand can prove too much. Site outages, slow page load and annoying queuing systems are not going to endear you to your customers. In 2014 Tesco, Argos and Boots reported problems with their websites on the big day. You need IT platforms that can perform under the heaviest of peak loads.
  • What about supply chain bandwidth? Are there enough lorry drivers? Can demand be met? Don’t forget that customers will be disappointed if logistics melt and delivery is slow or muddled.
  • Needy is not a good look. Jumping on this particular band wagon can appear rather... tactical.

Which way will we jump?

There seems to be real uncertainty about whether British brands are going to ‘go for it’ in 2015, or if there’ll be an uneasy stand off over who’ll blink first. This is what Home Retail boss John Walden said in October:

Trading at Argos during this year’s important Christmas season seems less predictable than usual, as both retailers and customers determine whether to repeat last year’s unusual Black Friday patterns.

So whether or not you’re planning ‘to do’ Black Friday this year, it seems the best way to deal with this encroaching American tradition is to adopt the best in British traditions – approach calmly and be prepared.

11 quick tips for a trouble-free Black Friday

1. Have a plan and stick to it.

Retailers can approach Black Friday in one of several different ways.  

  • Plan A: We are not doing Black Friday.
  • Plan B: We might do Black Friday if Debenhams do.
  • Plan C: Okay change the homepage, we’ll put a few things 20% off.
  • Plan D: F$%k, ASOS & Selfridges have joined in, launch the Black Friday missiles!

Whatever you decide make sure everyone in the business knows you have a plan(s) - and what it is.

2. Know your limits.  

Do you know your capacity? Have you forecasted targets? Have you thought about website load, stock, supply network, warehouse, click and collect?

3. Have you got a contingency plan?  

What can you switch off? Can you slow down orders? Do you need to offer only mainland delivery, can you just concentrate on London?

4. Timings.

What time will the sale go live? What time is the TV ad scheduled for? What advanced notice will staff and customers receive?  

Statistics show 7am to 10am on Black Friday, and 7pm to 10pm on Cyber Monday will be the peak traffic times.

5. Mobile.  

Black Friday will be the peak day for mobile transactions, with predictions of 23% on mobile device (Adobe).

Ensure your mobile marketing, website and app are fully prepared.

6. Prepare your marketing.  

Consistency across all channels is key.  

Don’t just rely on your email database or a few tweets. Amplify across all marcoms and especially digital - affiliate, display, PPC, SEO (yes SEO!) and social all need to be aligned.  

7. Prepare your media budget.

How scalable is it?  What if one big affiliate is performing well, how do you further incentify to push harder, do you have a contingency PPC budget if the demand continues?

What opportunistic marketing can you do? Hijack a brand that isn't? Or their TV advertising via the second screen?

8. What’s your product/sale mix?  

Have this agreed well in advance. Hourly discounts? Percentage off? Hot Hero products? 

9. Upsell and cross-sell.  

Don’t forget your basic sales principles in all the excitement. Use peak traffic periods to sell bundles, sell the accessories that goes alongside the hero product.  

Push both gifting and self-purchase (gifting for yourself).

10. Plan and rehearse.  

Across your business, your media agencies and all relevant third parties – rehearse what you’re all going to do – allowing margin for error…

11. On the day...

...have all the key people together. Agree and know accountability, prepare for regular and short communications on activity.

React quickly to issues and schedule breaks for all the various teams.

So, what’s the verdict?

Opinion may be divided on whether or not Black Friday and Cyber Monday are welcome additions to the UK retail calendar.  

The jury is still out on whether it is good or bad for sales, logistics and, ultimately, customers.

But the momentum is such that it may be difficult to abstain.  And if you do, what if your closest competitors don’t?    

Chris Bishop

Published 9 November, 2015 by Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop is Founder & CEO of 7thingsmedia and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

17 more posts from this author

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Comments (8)

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Christopher Dugdale, SEO Manager at Tesco

Retailers have to participate or lose-out on massive sales. People try to put the onus on retailers to opt out of this madness but businesses have a responsibility to their shareholders to make as much money as possible (within certain legal and ethical bounds).

If we want to see an end to the Black Friday madness, the consumer has to opt out. So, on the 27th of November, I will be throwing myself wholeheartedly into Buy Nothing Day (

over 2 years ago


Ian McBank, Boss Man at Online Money Roadmap

I supposed retailers have to 'do the math' to figure out if this is worthwhile event or not.

Many folks will be waiting eagerly to get the most value from their cash if they can.

Either way, they've got money (or credit) to spend.

Maybe retailers should be doing more to get them in at other times of the year.

On the above point by Christopher Dugdale. Retailers don't have to "participate or lose-out on massive sales" as you mentioned.

Louis Vuitton for example, don't ever discount their products.

Maybe the retailers need to adapt and find better customers who buy independent of price and seasonal events.

Just a thought.


over 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user


Do they have to join in? I think for mass market, high street retailers that typically holds true due to the nature of the brand and product but for some brand values don't align with what Black Friday represents e.g.
I think how Rei is approaching it is quite smart - they're effectively running a promotion by opting out and encouraging people who want to be different to join them, plus it aligns with their core values as an outdoor clothing expert.
The key question for me is this - is training your customers to wait until Black Friday to shop at lower margins good for the business and shareholders? Or are you simply cannibalising margin sales to generate higher volume around key events, so the long term is no financial gain? There are several leading retailers arguing the latter, that all we're doing is trading margin for volume and not increasing overall spend. I've seen a few retailers have a torrid October and early November because consumers know they just need to wait a few more weeks.

over 2 years ago


Christopher Dugdale, SEO Manager at Tesco

Ian, I get your point about the likes of Louis Vuitton, who make a brand-driven choice to not discount their goods. I probably wasn't clear enough in what I was trying to say. When I said "...opt-out of...", maybe I should have said "...extricate from...". It is one thing to never participate in Black Friday, but when you have done once, it is almost impossible to stop in future years.

If Amazon stopped participating in Black Friday events, and their revenues took a hit, they would certainly face a class-action lawsuit from their shareholders in the US. Companies in the UK would probably find it easier to extricate themselves, but they would still have to face tough questions on why their year-on-year figures aren't looking too rosy when they report their results to the city (assuming they are a PLC - it's a lot easier for a private company).

In short, there is an expectation in the consumer-base that this kind of sale activity will happen. Those customers with those expectations will go somewhere and spend their money. If no retailer engaged with Black Friday, then the expectation will reset, but while some brands do engage, that money will go to those brands that do take part. While that situation persists, some brands will take part, because to not take part is to abandon a revenue-stream.

over 2 years ago

Lee Cash

Lee Cash, Senior Business Development Manager at Qubit

Can someone please explain what Traffic TY and Traffic LY represent in the stats file that was shared? I'm guessing high/low traffic days, but not sure what TY and LY stand for?

over 2 years ago


Kerrie Chamberlain, E-Commerce & Social Media Controller at P&O FerriesEnterprise

I would guess This Year/Last Year...

over 2 years ago


Montserrat Cano, Digital marketing, e-commerce at n/a

Despite the commercial aspect of B/F, etc, I think there might still be room for charity giving if a commercial aspect is thrown into the mix.

over 2 years ago

Lee Cash

Lee Cash, Senior Business Development Manager at Qubit

Thanks Kerrie, that makes sense. I wonder if anyone knows of a similar study which shows the traffic peak on BF vs the average for the year for different types of retailer? That would be very interesting to see.

over 2 years ago

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