Black Friday promotions are getting in the way of brand marketing campaigns

Retailers pumped millions of pounds into their Christmas marketing campaigns this year but promotional events such as Black Friday proved a distraction for customers and brands alike.

Black Friday was a sales success for UK retailers. Figures from John Lewis show that the week of Black Friday, which fell on 28 November 2014, was the biggest sales week in its history, pulling in £179.1m and surpassing Christmas week sales for the first time.

John Lewis’ managing director Andy Street said Black Friday has led to a “new shape of trade for Christmas”, with an early peak at the end of November driven by Black Friday and last minute gift buying.

Other retailers, including Dixons Carphone, have also noted that Black Friday brought forward Christmas sales, rather than adding to them.

At the supermarkets, while sales for Black Friday goods soared – Asda sold 8,000 TVs in the first hour of its promotion – the event failed to have a halo effect across the rest of the industry. Figures from IRI show that grocery sales got off to a slow start, with spend falling 2.5% in the first two weeks of the festive season (16 November – 30 November) compared to last year.

The aim of Black Friday was to give the high street an early boost, especially given lacklustre fashion sales caused by a particularly warm winter. However, Neil Saunders, managing director at retail analysts Conlumino, says that boost “came at the expense of sales growth in latter weeks” and profit margins.

The role of brand campaigns

If events such as Black Friday have the ability to shift consumer spend in this way it raises questions over the role of big brand campaigns. John Lewis, Marks & Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s were among the retailers spending millions on festive brand campaigns.

However, this Christmas it seems tactical advertising around one promotional event at the end of November had a bigger impact on how and where consumers shopped.

“Black Friday gets in the way of the overall corporate campaign.”

Philip Dorrell, partner, Retail Remedy

“Black Friday gets in the way of the overall corporate campaign, last year for most and this for some. Anything that is a little unplanned stock-wise and has to be created last minute is never a good thing to try and market,” says Philip Dorrell, partner at retail analysts Retail Remedy.

Christmas winners and losers

At John Lewis the move paid off, with its decision not to discount over the rest of Christmas meaning its sales held up. The same is true at Next, which didn’t participate in any big promotional activity, including Black Friday.

That is unlikely to be the case at Marks & Spencer’s which is expected to post sales declines when it updates on its results on Thursday (8 January). The big four supermarkets are also expected to see sales declines, in line with drops seen in the latest Kantar Worldpanel figures, while Aldi and Lidl which didn’t participate in Black Friday will see double-digit sales increases.

Street is calling for retailers to “rein back” on Black Friday. However, the event is now a part of the Christmas retail diary, with stores including Curry’s already preparing for this year’s event and warning customers to do the same.

“Disengaging with it [Black Friday] now will be to lose out. Although it may ebb and flow Black Friday is here to stay, like it or not,” says Dorrell.