Black Friday marks the beginning of the Christmas season when thrifty shoppers will spend billions of pounds in an attempt to snatch up the best of the cut-price products on offer.
The 2015 event saw Britons collectively spend £2bn in shops and online in the 24-hour period, and £3.3bn over the entire four-day weekend.
By 9.10pm, Black Friday had already become Amazon’s biggest sales day ever in the UK, with more than six million items ordered.
For Amazon, which brought the trend to the UK, Black Friday 2015 surpassed all expectations with 7.4 million items ordered — around 86 items per second. The online giant offered thousands of Lightning Deals, discounted products available for a limited period of time, with new deals added every 10 minutes.
Other retailers — such as John Lewis, Argos, Boots, Tesco and Game — all struggled to cope with the volume of online orders and saw significant downtime on their respective websites.
According to 2015 data collected from hundreds of retailers by sales aggregating website Love the Sales, retailers typically have 10-15pc of stock on sale all year round.
In fact, the data shows that in terms of the number of products priced at a discount, Black Friday is actually below average. The average number of products on sale daily over the past year sits at 255,000.
The peak “sales day” actually fell in July last year, when 380,000 items were discounted.
The data puts paid to the myth that after the January sales you’ll be out of luck, as the number of products at sale price remains high well into February.
Mike Cullis, CEO of marketing agency Soul, says there’s no question that Black Friday is a gimmick.
“It’s a very successful retail marketing gimmick, a US retail ploy invented in 1932 to get people to go shopping when their accounts were in the black,” he adds. “It’s been a great way for retailers to get people shopping early — the point being that the longer you can extend the shopping period, the more people will spend overall during that period.”
And retailers are making the most of the craze, explains Stuart Higgins, retail partner at LCP Consulting.
“It is not unknown for retailers to use the low footfall period immediately before Black Friday and the run-up to Christmas to artificially raise their own retail prices for a period of 28 days to then drop them for Black Friday at an amazing headline discount rate,” he adds.
“Not all retailers use these tactics, but the fact that some do has made consumers much more aware of the perils of shopping on Black Friday, and much more inclined to carefully research their proposed purchases prior to committing to buy.”
New research suggests that 31pc of UK shoppers think the deals are no better than others throughout the year.
A survey by market research consultancy Future Thinking also suggested that 50pc of consumers now think the deals “aren’t particularly good and it seems to be more of a marketing gimmick”.
Just 19pc of the 1,300 people surveyed believed Black Friday was a great way to get the best deals.
“Don’t underestimate how savvy and knowledgeable shoppers actually are,” Dom Joseph CEO of Captify, a search intelligence firm, says. “Due to the wealth of information available at their fingertips, consumers now research products they want to buy well in advance of Black Friday to make sure they’re getting the best deal possible on the day itself.
“Retailers know the ever increasing and heightened expectations that consumers have for Black Friday, meaning that those who do offer genuine value are going to win the war for customers,” he adds.
Jo Causon, chief executive of The Institute of Customer Service, warns that “rapid fire sales” may shift stock, but can damage reputations.
She says: “One-off discounts might be attractive to some customers and perceived as an easy win for retailers, but in today’s uncertain economic climate, keeping customers happy is about more than just offering knockdown prices.”
In its latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), the organisation found that one in four customers are willing to pay more, if it means getting a better service, showing that simply bagging a bargain is no longer enough.
“With Black Friday so heavily trailed by retailers, there remains the risk that some customers will be left disappointed if what they want sells out, or if poor technology hinders websites being able to cope with demand,” Ms Causon adds. “Ultimately it will be the organisations who put long-term profitability over short-term wins who thrive and enjoy the loyalty of satisfied customers.”
Research from online payment service PCA Predict showed a 279pc increase in e-commerce customers on Black Friday last year, compared to an average day, suggesting the sales are not a short-lived gimmick.
“As the consumer appetite for Black Friday increases, we’re expecting to see up to 20-25pc more online transactions this year, making it a huge opportunity that retailers simply can’t afford to ignore,” Chris Harle, of PCA Predict, adds.
New figures from Nationwide suggest that Black Friday continues to grow in popularity with a 47pc increase in spending on the day, compared to a standard Friday. The average amount spent was £45.