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Can Black Friday brighten prospects for Norfolk and Suffolk’s retailers?

PUBLISHED: 10:23 22 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:41 23 November 2017

Shoppers in Norwich. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Shoppers in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

Norfolk and Suffolk’s retailers are preparing for the Black Friday and festive rush amid challenging times for the high street. Doug Faulkner finds out how they are feeling ahead of this key season.

Shop manager Chris Goulding with this years top Christmas toys. Picture: ANTONY KELLY Shop manager Chris Goulding with this years top Christmas toys. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It arrived on our shores with colourful tales of shoppers fighting over TVs in supermarket aisles, but it seems that Black Friday has matured to become a fixture in the UK’s retail calendar.

For some shops it brings a welcome chance to relieve a bit of the pressure from the Christmas rush, while others find it yet another squeeze on their already tight margins.

This year the retail event falls on November 24 but many stores and online retailers have been holding sales since the weekend.

The sector has been under pressure in recent months with several large retailers and supermarkets – including Asda, Wilko, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and New Look – announcing swathes of redundancies.

Jarrolds unveil their Christmas window display.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Jarrolds unveil their Christmas window display. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Consumer spending during the festive period is set to fall by 0.1% in real terms, compared with the same period last year when spending grew 2.8%, according to research compiled for Visa.

It would be the first time that spending has dropped over the November-December shopping period since 2012, when it declined 1.3%.

Despite some negativity in forecasts the Norwich-based Centre for Retail Research (CRR) is predicting a 1.5%, or £15m, rise in Christmas spending in Norfolk and a 1.6%, or £14m, rise in Suffolk.

Prof Joshua Bamfield, director of CRR, said: “With Black Friday there is not the gradual build up [to Christmas] there was in the past and many people will have done their Christmas shopping by the end of November.

Robert Hughes, managing director of Hughes Electrical. Picture: Hughes Electrical Robert Hughes, managing director of Hughes Electrical. Picture: Hughes Electrical

“October has been a bad time for retailers but in the last couple of weeks we have seen that Christmas has really started across the UK.”

Prof Bamfield said nearly 30% of Christmas shopping would be done online this year – nearly double the normal portion of the market, with bricks-and-mortar shop sales forecast to fall by 2.5%. One of the reasons for this, he said, was people buying items they normally would not – researching the latest products for younger relatives, for example – and therefore using the internet for comfort.

While it gives shoppers a chance to bag an early bargain, Black Friday also relieves some of the pressure of the vital Christmas period by marking the starting point of the festive spending spree.

The CRR has predicted shoppers will spend £2.6bn – an 8% increase on last year’s £2.4bn and equal to £1.8m a minute – as they snap up bargains in stores and online on November 24.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre of Retail Research. Picture: Joshua Bamfield Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre of Retail Research. Picture: Joshua Bamfield

Robert Hughes, managing director of Hughes Electrical, said Black Friday and the Boxing Day sales were the “two humps on the camel” in his business’s year.

He said: “Shop sales will double on Black Friday and the week following Christmas and web sales will be triple for the Black Friday weekend.

“It does mean it goes very quiet between Black Friday and the Boxing Day sales and I think it does help to spread out the post-Christmas rush somewhat – it helps with the logistics of it.”

While some retailers dislike the additional discounting of Black Friday, Mr Hughes said he would prefer to make sales sooner.

“We are competing against a lot of entertainment experiences, so I would rather someone spent money with us now at a lower price than they went and spent it in a restaurant tomorrow,” he said.

Mr Hughes said the company, a member of the EDP/EADT Top100 list of highest turnover companies in Norfolk and Suffolk, had to be dynamic to react to the prices of online retailers such as Amazon.

“Black Friday is the only time of the year we advertise on television,” he said. “But we have to be very careful about prices as they can change so quickly – sometimes multiple times a day.”

Paul Glasswell, managing director at Suffolk home furnishings chain Glasswells, said the day of promotion did not suit his business as much of its furniture was made to order, rather than the off-the-shelf items usually available in a Black Friday deal. However, he was expecting strong demand for gifts and products this season.

“Having offered some Black Friday deals over the past few years, we have found that it isn’t a promotion that is particularly well suited or taken up in the home furnishings marketplace, as perhaps it is in electrical, clothing and online,” he said.

“We have just finished our refurbishment events at Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich and the majority of the new products on display, are exactly that – brand new, which means there is not too much product to be cleared.”

The store still had some overstocked lines and cancelled orders which it reduced down for customers in the usual way, he said.

“Historically, we have not seen Black Friday impact on our pre-Christmas sales and I don’t see this Christmas being any different from previous years.”

Vital time for retailers

Prof Paul Dobson, head of Norwich Business School, said Black Friday could be more important than ever for retailers this year.

He said: “There is huge pressure on retailers at the moment and they are finding many consumers are very nervous.

“When there is uncertainty people don’t spend which is not what retailers want.

“You would think people would be saving for the Christmas period so wouldn’t think about going crazy and splashing out but Black Friday has been a success.

“It shows people are prepared to bring forward expenditure plans if they sense a good deal.”

Prof Dobson added Black Friday, which had come over with American retailers such as Asda, Toys R Us and Amazon, had been seized upon by British stores as a way of spreading out their festive revenue. In the USA the event falls the day after Thanksgiving, but Brits have adopted the sale despite not celebrating the festival.

Christmas at the toy shop

Chris Goulding, manager at Langleys in the Royal Arcade, said that Friday would mark the first time the 134-year-old business had taken part in the Black Friday phenomemon.

The shop will be offering customers the chance to get their hands on a sold-out Christmas toy on Friday morning.

“There will be several Black Friday deals in-store but the main draw will be the chance to buy a toy that is proving difficult to pin down,” said Mr Goulding, who added that the majority of the independent’s sales came during the six weeks prior to Christmas.

“This is by far our busiest time of year and without it, we would be in an entirely different position. What Langleys offers is entirely different to multiples and warehouse stores – we stock products that others don’t, we have knowledgeable staff and shopping here is an experience.”

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