The festive shopping season officially begins tomorrow, as retailers around the UK experience their busiest weekend of the year, beginning on Black Friday.
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The date that started out as an industrial nickname in the US (post-Thanksgiving, shops would be at their fullest and flailing books would return to the black) Black Friday is now something of a global phenomenon, as retailers instigate discount wars in attempts to attract the most shoppers, and bargain-seekers will gamely punch each other, in fights for the last discounted television. Isn’t it just the most wonderful time of the year?
In the last few years, British fashion brands (i.e. the more civilised, fistfight-free types) have also discovered that America’s Black Friday falls at a most convenient time for them – an optimum four weeks before Christmas for present-buying, as well as striking the right moment to snap up a Christmas party outfit. As demand has surged year-on-year, it’s become a date that our labels just can’t ignore.
‘Black Friday has become an important date in our customer’s calendar,’ explains Charlotte Ellis, customer director at Karen Millen, who are offering 25% off everything in store and online, with extra discounts added to selected items. ‘She looks at all of her favourite brands and shops around more than she usually does, so we see a surge in traffic from our existing customer base as well as the new customers that the special offers attract. We definitely saw an increase in both sales and footfall on Black Friday last year.’
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Longline coat, now £245 at Karen Millen
As such, fashion brands now begin their preparations months in advance, planning marketing campaigns and creative deals that will catch the attention of a spoiled-for-choice consumer. ‘Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now key dates within our trading calendar and we prepare for them as we would any other major promotional activity,’ says Stephen Ayres, Fashion Director at Avenue 32 who will be offering 30% off of selected products over the weekend. ‘We ensure that we are selecting the right products to be included and that they are supported through our communications and digital marketing.’
Black Friday is no longer a one day event, either, lasting the entirety of the final weekend of November and ending on ‘Cyber Monday’, the busiest day of the year for online sales. ‘Cyber Monday was our best performing day last year outperforming Black Friday,’ says Kurt Geiger’s Creative Director Rebecca Farrar-Hockley, the brand offering 20% off bags and shoes in store and online this year. ‘For the past two years, both dates have become important fixtures in our retail calendar – we listen to our customers and understand that this is something they look forward to, and with this in mind we implement a clear strategy to ensure Kurt Geiger offers a compelling offer and a seamless shopping experience in-store and online.’
‘Rattle’ boots, now £136, KG Kurt Geiger
So what’s everybody buying? ‘It’s a critical time for our handbag collection which is by far the favoured category at this time of year,’ adds Farrar-Hockley, who believes that many customers are giving bags as gifts, while buying party heels for themselves. ‘Sales coming from the promotions have a lower average selling point than we would usually see, indication that it is an aspirational shopper taking advantage of designer discounts,’ adds Ayres of Avenue 32.
Only a few British fashion institutions that we contacted for this feature, including Browns and Harrods, stated that they didn’t participate in Black Friday discounting, preferring to focus on a different kind of Christmas campaign. For some, the traditional (far more British) event that is the Boxing Day sales provides enough fuel for the fire.
But for those who do want to get involved, there are profits to be made from spontaneous sale shoppers, and even smaller labels can benefit from a much-welcome boost to their bottom lines – they just have to be creative in order to compete for a slice of the action.
The ‘Happy’ shoulder bag, will be £397 in the Hill & Friends Black Friday sample sale
‘We obviously cannot compete in the same way as the huge brands in terms of discount, so as a smaller designer brand we need to keep coming up with fresh ideas,’ says Georgia Hardinge, whose eponymous label is offering 30% off selected pieces from a new capsule collection over the weekend. ‘This year we have collaborated with other London Fashion Week designers such as Matthew Miller, Kit Neale and CMMN SWDN to create a hub of contemporaries at Hackney Walk, to celebrate Black Friday, but with a unique party feel, so there will be music and interaction to bring the customer away from their computer screens.’
As a relatively new brand, it’s a challenge to participate,’ agrees Georgia Fendley, Co-Founder of Hill and Friends. ‘We don’t have excess stock or discount in season, however we appreciate that customers are excited to snap up a bargain from their favourite brand. This year we have decided to create a digital sample sale, whilst current stock won’t be discounted, there will be a selection of limited edition, exclusive and out of season bags available at an amazing discount. These early sales at the end of November have become part of the calendar whether we like it or not… this weekend looms large in the consciousness of consumers.’
It’s not quite a national holiday yet, but there’s no denying that Black Friday has made a big mark on the fashion calendar.
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