The Opt-outs

There are a number of different reasons retailers have been opting out from Black Friday but it’s chiefly about the bottom line in December.

In the UK, where the holiday is only just maturing, such a spike in November 2014 sales led to the lowest-ever growth in online trade for the following December (5%).

1. Jigsaw – being bullish and coping with demand

Jigsaw has published a ‘Black Friday manifesto’ on its website, which is a valiant attempt at a PR stunt.

The message, which you can read in full here, is all about how Jigsaw’s clothes are too fantastic to discount. It ends with a rather self-satisfied paragraph:

Unsurprisingly, we won’t be taking part in Black Friday. Our products are reduced by nothing because they stand for something. We do have black in our collection; that’s as far as we will go.

However, Jigsaw did (surprisingly) offer 10% discounts on Black Friday in 2014, both in store and online. And it does, as it admits in the manifesto, offer two sales a year, including at Christmas, when its clothes are discounted.

So, this withdrawal from Black Friday is more about Jigsaw being a little bullish on the back of a good December performance in 2014.

jigsaw black friday manifesto

Jigsaw increased sales by 17% last year (in the five weeks to December 28th), with click and collect making an impact. The chief executive, Peter Ruis, told the Financial Times of the brands success in the final two weeks to Christmas.

We had a Black Friday event and then we stuck to our guns, and it really started to go right around [December] 15, onwards…

…The last weeks leading up to Christmas… were amazing. It was a combination of holding our nerve, and we invested heavily in stock for the last three to four weeks [before Christmas].

So, in 2015, Jigsaw is confident it can sell its stock at full price until its end-of-season sale. Offering discounts earlier on Black Friday inflates demand ahead of this key period, potentially cannibalising sales.

2. ASDA – concentrating on core products and customer satisfaction

ASDA is a poster child for Black Friday’s arrival in the UK, with fisticuffs at its Wembley store in 2014 proving somewhat of a PR disaster for the supermarket.

In 2015, the climate for UK supermarkets is one of competition with Aldi and Lidl. As such, ASDA has taken the opportunity to concentrate on a message of great prices across its core range (groceries rather than televisions), advertising £26m of discounts over the period.

ASDA CEO Andy Clarke said the following:

When it comes to putting customers first, Asda has always led the way, which is why we’re just as confident in our decision to step away from Black Friday as we were in introducing it to the UK.

So, ASDA is abandoning big discounts on Black Friday, leaving it to the like of Tesco, which will be closing its large stores from midnight to 5am on Black Friday, in order to put security in place.

ASDA’s Black Friday 2014 landing page still displays the now-incorrect message of ‘see you next year’.

asda black friday page

3. REI – a full-on PR stunt

REI’s decision to close all its bricks-and-mortar stores on Black Friday, telling customers to ‘opt outside’ is a classic piece of PR.

The retailer’s online checkout will still be ringing, so only time will tell how the PR boost will affect overall sales.

As we get closer to November 27th, REI’s message has to compete with all the noise about deals on social media, and there’s potential for the campaign to wilt.

The Reluctant

John Lewis – bracing itself

Black Friday 2014 was the biggest sales day in John Lewis’ esteemed history. With its commitment to never being beaten on price, the retailer can’t avoid the annual frenzy, as it matches offers found elsewhere.

For 2015, John Lewis is bracing itself yet again, advertising electronics offers and hoping Black Friday will add a further boost to festive sales already ignited by its new TV advert.

However, on the back of a year when John Lewis has endured complaints about service levels (particularly delivery, with TrustPilot reviews making for sorry reading), the logistics of such a big shopping day are daunting.

Indeed, in January of this year, managing director, Andy Street, appeared to pour tepid water on the holiday, with doubts over profitability and impact on operations, saying the following to the BBC:

We’ve got to ask if it’s right to concentrate trade so much in that one period.

My personal hope is that this is the high water mark for Black Friday. I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle but do we need to stoke that fire anymore? I personally hope not.

john lewis black friday

The Master

Amazon – has it licked

Amazon’s Black Friday strategy speaks for itself.

  • A week of deals, including ‘deals of the day’ and limited-time ‘lightning deals’ added as often as every five minutes.
  • The ability to watch a deal, and be notified when the deal starts.
  • Prime members are notified 30 minutes ahead of everyone else.
  • Some deals are available exclusively through the mobile app.
  • As usual, Prime allows for same day delivery.
  • Black Friday sponsored by Doddle, allowing click and collect.
  • Amazon is predicted to be employing 100,000 temporary staff to cope with demand across the season.

In 2014, Amazon increased Black Friday sales from 4m goods to 5.5m. Its first ‘Prime Day’ in July 2015 was even bigger than Black Friday 2014.

With such impressive strategy and logistics, Amazon continues to have a stranglehold on Black Friday.

amazon black friday

The Hedgers

Many retailers, much like Amazon, are spreading demand and encouraging repeat visits by extending Black Friday through November.

1. Argos – balancing the discount mentality with repeat visits

John Walden, chief exec of Home Retail Group (includes Argos) said that shoppers had a ‘discount mentality’ in 2014.

A 45% increase in sales on Black Friday didn’t do much for sales growth across the period, which stuck at 0.1% like-for-like in the 18 weeks to January 3rd.

So, Argos saw sales cannibalised by Black Friday in 2014, and this affected profitability.

To counter that this year, Argos has not only extended Black Friday to 12 days of sales (with its website crashing briefly on day one, November 20th), but has also ramped up to the event with its ‘Red, White and Blue Friday’ events.

These smaller events were designed to increase awareness of Argos from the beginning of November, hoping to encourage repeat custom from shoppers over a two-month period.

Combined with an aggressive media strategy, this is smart stuff from Argos and may well set a trend in the UK for more measured sales over a longer period. This will allow the retailer to better forecast and choose which products to discount.

argos blue friday page 

2. eBay – a week of sales and a focus on the season

I must admit, I haven’t seen that much fanfare from eBay around Black Friday.

The pureplay’s strategy revolves around bigging up the entire season with its ‘Wish Bigger’ campaign, featuring deals, gift guides, special events etc. running through to January.

Again, this is all about spreading out demand, enabling eBay to compete with other retailers throughout the festive season.

ebay wish bigger

The online converts

Walmart, Best Buy and Target – no lure deals, most deals online

Walmart will this year avoid its famous super-limited stock deals, which chiefly acted as a lure for customers, causing chaos and leaving many disappointed.

96% of in-store deals will be offered online by Walmart, beginning at midnight, with the retailer also offering some deals in the run-up to the day.

Best Buy and Target are also taking this approach, recognising this works best for the customer.

Walmart is again offering a one-hour guarantee for a few key items, meaning that for the first hour of the sale in-store, even if stocks sell out, customers will be guaranteed a product.


For more on Black Friday, see the following Econsultancy posts.