LONDON (Reuters) - Britons chased “Black Friday” shopping bargains on Friday with initial signs that many were going online rather than heading to stores for an event imported from the United States.
Retailers are hoping the promotions will kick-start Christmas trading after a weak November when, according to an industry survey published this week, sales grew at the slowest rate in nine months.
Retail researcher Conlumino is forecasting the event will generate UK sales, both in stores and online, of 1.6 billion pounds, up 20 percent on 2014.
“It looks as if Black Friday spending has been more spread out this year and more weighted to online, but every indication is that the combined event will be bigger than last year,” said independent retail analyst Nick Bubb.
In the United States, Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, was so named because spending would pick up and retailers would begin to turn a profit for the year and move into the black.
Introduced into Britain in 2010 by U.S. online retailer Amazon, the day has become an important part of the shopping calendar as more and more chains join in.
However, last year’s event caused long queues and sparked brawls in stores as shoppers fought over bargains. That may have encouraged more people to shop online this year.
British retailers are anxious to avoid a repeat of last year’s trading pattern when the surge in low-margin sales was followed by weaker-than-expected demand, as shoppers held back in the hope of further discounts.
This year, some retailers — including Amazon, Argos, Marks & Spencer and Dixons Carphone — have stretched “Black Friday” discounts over several days.
Amazon is offering more than 7,000 deals over the course of a week, while Dixons Carphone is offering over 3,000 deals over 10 days.
Researcher FootFall estimates Black Friday in-store shopper numbers will be down by up to 4 percent from 2014.
Dixons’ Currys PC World chain reported unprecedented online demand online, with a 53 percent increase in hourly web traffic compared to last year.
Social media indicated stores across the country were quieter than last year and shoppers better behaved.
At Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, Black Friday started on its website at midnight. Doors opened at 250 of its largest stores earlier than normal at 0500 GMT.
“We’re really happy with how it’s going so far. What you haven’t seen is the big crazy crushes,” said a Tesco spokesman.
“It’s going really well online,” he added.
At the huge Westfield shopping centre in east London, close to the London 2012 Olympic stadium, trading was brisk rather than frenzied.
Shaquille Simon, a 21 year-old McDonald’s manager, said he bought two televisions online from Tesco at midnight, before heading for Westfield early Friday.
“If I see something I like I’ll buy it. Simple as that,” he said. He noted the mall was less crowded than he expected.
Asda, which is owned by Wal-Mart and was one of the UK’s Black Friday pioneers, stepped back from the event this year, blaming “shopper fatigue”.
“Asda’s retreat might encourage other retailers, who have already planned for and bought for 2015, to scale back on Black Friday in 2016,” said Bryan Roberts of researcher Kantar Retail.
Editing by Keith Weir