Black Friday is Evolution, Not Revolution

“I woke up to 57 emails…” Seems to be the theme running around the office on Black Friday morning. Although seemingly it’s not Black Friday any more. Reading Metro on the way in, adverts refer to it variously as Black Friday; Black Fivedays; Pink Friday; and inexplicably Black Friday… Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (we don’t know what’s wrong with Thursday either).

So is consumer fatigue setting in? Over recent years, brands have talked about the shifting power dynamic between consumer and retailer. Multichannel and Omnichannel have seemingly driven customers’ expectations to new heights. But has 2015 been the year of the retailer fight back? John Lewis was one of the first to rally against peak cost-cutting. To paraphrase Andy Street, their charismatic CEO, he said that they didn’t like it, but had to go along with it. Interestingly, their advertising today focuses on matching competitors’ prices – continuing their theme of being ‘never knowingly undersold’. It’s a bit of a mixed message to be fair, but it looks like they’ve acknowledged the phenomenon. Meanwhile, Asda generated some decent PR around their non-involvement, instead shifting the emphasis to everyday value. Ironic, as Walmart were one of the main exponents for bringing Black Friday across the Atlantic.

So are there deals to be had? Yes, some. Is this as bad for the retail sector as many are making out? Probably not. Retailers have become more savvy about this American import, and have been planning for it since peak last year. Before most of us had even heard the term, retailers were responding to market forces and price-cutting to increase sales ahead of Christmas. Peak demand has always been there in some form, and retailers have always responded to market forces.

In some ways, this is simply the January sales brought forward. Increasingly, retailers are seeing this as a stock-shifting exercise, and the way that retailers are promoting it is telling. Some brands are ignoring it, some are downplaying it, and some have gone for all-out visual assault. This suggests retail as a sector is still coming to terms with what Black Friday means. The overall sense is that things aren’t quite as mad as last year, as retailers look to cap the threat it can pose to their bottom line.

With Tesco’s media team today tweeting that ‘everything’s alright’ like some sort of public service announcement, in expectation of the apocalypse, we can say that Black Friday is here to stay. However, brands are becoming savvier about how they handle it. Brand equity is key to this, and more retailers are discounting certain lines in a coordinated and controlled fashion, whilst retaining prices on their premium offering – which will sell no matter what. Some brands, meanwhile, have attained a position whereby their offer is such that they can bypass discounting altogether, and that’s an enviable position to be in.