The old idea for retail was to sell more food, drink and gifts for Christmas at full price before 25 December. Stock left over, damaged, or seasonal was then offered at a discount to get rid of it in the January sales. The shops could stock up for November and December, hope to achieve decent prices in the best trading season of the year and could then get rid of any surplus at a discount . They could enter the New Year with lower and better stock after the strains of the Christmas rush and the hurricane of the post Christmas sales.
Today several changes have occurred to alter this pattern fundamentally. The arrival of on line shopping has given many more people the chance to shop at their convenience at week ends, late at night or whenever. This year has seen a further big switch from in store to on line purchases.
The second thing that has happened is customers and retailers now play a game of chicken with each other over when the big surge may occur in transactions. More customers hold out for discounts before Christmas to tempt them to buy. More families seem to share the present buying with more consultation of the recipient, so there are more people buying presents for each other on line or post Christmas to take advantage of better prices.
The third thing is American influence with the advent of Black Friday, a new mega shop day based on special discounts. Some get caught up in the spirit of this “give away” and rush to the shops. Some get stuck in huge traffic jams trying to get back again.
It is doubtful that the advent of Black Friday does add much to total retail spend over the period of the Christmas season. It may simply reduce trading margins a bit, where genuine new discounts are offered for items which people were probably going to buy anyway.
The biggest issue is the future of the town centre. With Internet market share rising so rapidly it points to fewer successful shopping centres, and to shorter or more compact High Streets in some places. The Town Centre managers have their work cut out to promote and promote their venues for shoppers, who want a high proportion of cafes, entertainment, coffee shops, restaurants and the rest to make shopping more than a trip to the shops. For the shops themselves they now have to battle against people seeing and learning about the merchandise in the store, only to buy it back home on line.