LONDON — Black Friday has changed the nature of Christmas holiday retail in the U.K. for better and for worse, according to the managing director of British department store chain John Lewis.
The store reported its biggest sales ever during the final week of November fueled by the relatively new American import of Black Friday.
“This year confirmed the new shape of trade for Christmas, with an early peak at the end of November driven by Black Friday and last minute gift buying,” Street said Monday in a trading update that focused on the five weeks to Dec. 27.
Total sales in the period were 777 million pounds, or $1.19 billion, up 5.8 percent compared with the previous year. Compared with two years ago, total sales were up 13.4 percent.
Street said the last week in November was the biggest for sales in the store’s 150-year history. Sales were up 22 percent on 2013, with the store’s Web site notching a 300 percent increase in traffic during the early hours of trading on Black Friday.
In the U.K., stores have traditionally begun their discounting the day after Christmas.
Street added that while Black Friday was a boon for sales in 2014, the early discounting shifted demand to November from the weeks immediately before Christmas. Later on Monday, he said he hoped the day would not gain serious traction in the U.K.
“It is not in the interests of retailers to continue to grow the pace of Black Friday at the expense of other weeks,” Street said, adding that the day should, however, remain a promotional one for electrical goods.
Electronics and home technology led the uptick in sales on Black Friday, and finished the five-week holiday period with a 6.8 percent year-on-year increase. Fashion, including beauty, increased by 7.8 percent on last year, helped by “very strong” online trade, Street said.
Indeed, online was the main engine behind sales growth. Online sales were up 19 percent in the five-week period, compared with in-store sales, which were flat.
“With Black Friday driving a higher proportion of online sales, and customers increasingly wanting more convenience, this has meant a real concentration on fulfillment,” Street said.
Retail expert Dan Wagner, chief executive of Powa Technologies, which provides brick-and-click technology to retailers, said stores need to be vigilant about how they pace promotional periods in the run-up to Christmas.
“With record sales on Black Friday and a high volume of online orders right through Christmas day itself, seasonal sales have become a marathon rather than a dash. It’s apparent that an alarming amount (of retailers) are still relying on heavy discounts to lure shoppers in store, rather than preparing for the long haul.”
As reported last month, Britain’s BDO’s monthly High Street Sales Tracker figures showed that sales growth for November remained virtually flat, with the exception of Black Friday.
The organization said the sales surge resulting from the day was not necessarily good for retailers in the long run, forcing them to discount further in December in order to shift stock.