Just three years ago Black Friday became synonymous with images of customers fighting over heavily discounted goods.
The ugly scenes accompanied reports of police and ambulance services being called to stores across the UK, with several people injured in the melees.
Fast forward to 2017 and the madness turned to mirth over the weekend as footage showed an amusing lack of high street hysteria. Cameras at the Oxford Street branch of Curry’s PC World captured staff ceremoniously opening the shop’s doors... only for one, lone man to walk in. His name was Marcel, according to the BBC, and he was merely waiting to collect a pre-ordered laptop.
The video anecdote, which went viral on social media, was later backed up by hard data. Figures from retail research gurus Springboard revealed a 3.6 per cent drop in Black Friday in-store sales compared to last year – significantly sharper than the expected 0.6 per cent decline. High street sales fell 4.2 per cent, while revenues in shopping centres collapsed nearly five per cent.
So where have all the shoppers gone? Analysis suggests the phenomenon of feuding bargain-grabbers has faded partly because people are now staying at home and taking advantage of Black Friday discounts in their own time.
Online sales were up nearly six per cent according to separate research from PCA Predict. And a breakdown of the data reveals that even online shoppers were taking a less frantic approach to Black Friday. Internet sales were down sharply from midnight to 8am, compared to 2016’s Black Friday. Then they began to pick up and outperformed year-on-year for the rest of the day, peaking at lunchtime. Today being Cyber Monday, another wave of online sales is expected.
When Black Friday traversed the Atlantic there was much hand-wringing about the apparent cultural importation of a commercial American invention. Some commentators expressed discomfort about big companies imposing a consumerist frenzy on the British public. The aforementioned images of grappling crowds surging into Tesco reinforced their concerns.
But on last week’s evidence, such fears are unfounded. Our Christmas shopping habits have not been warped by Black Friday. On the contrary, Black Friday has been re-shaped by our habits. We are shopping when we want, how we want, and increasingly saving time by snapping up gifts on our smartphones. The consumer, after all, is still king.