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Experts unclear on Black Friday performance

The Black Friday period could see sales growth of two to three per cent, although there is “a very real possibility” that it could be flat and the lowest sales figures ever recorded, according to IMRG, the industry association for online retail.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, explained that at the start of the year, the industry group predicted that the online retail market would grow by nine per cent in 2019.

“With nine months’ worth of data now in, the year-to-date figure is currently sitting at 4.9 per cent,” he stated, but cautioning that even with hopes riding on the so-called ‘Golden Quarter’, “it’s difficult at this point to see how the peak trading period is going to be anything other than weak from a revenue perspective, and may potentially even be completely flat”.

The two to three per cent sales growth forecast for the eight-day period running from 25 November through 2 December represents the lowest forecast IMRG have ever put out for a major online sales event.

IMRG tracks 300 retail sites, monitoring the rate of headline discount that is on offer, how widespread the discounting is and when Black Friday-specific campaigns are switched on – allowing it to cross-reference promotional activity with sales performance.

What happens over the Christmas period more broadly has become heavily dependent on Black Friday trading, according to IMRG.

“Black Friday will serve as a strong indicator of seasonal shopper demand this year, but, even if growth comes in as expected, December is still only likely to just about manage positive year-on-year growth.”

IMRG is forecasting growth of one to two per cent for December, which is in comparison to the weak growth of 3.6 per cent last year, which was the lowest for the month of December ever.

In terms of what is actually causing the current downturn in retail, Mulcahy listed a lack of shopper confidence, retailers stuck in discounting cycles, spending shifted to other areas like entertainment and leisure, Brexit and a lack of new technology.

On that last point, IMRG stated that when new devices gain traction for online retail conversion, they tend to create new contexts for engaging with retail sites, which drives sales growth.

“At the moment there is no new device, and while voice assistants have potential, they have not reached a level of retail-use adoption yet.”

As demand has been low, many retailers will also be carrying a lot of excess stock, meaning that there may be notably more deals available – and a greater variety of offers could stimulate more purchases.

“However, a decent Black Friday trading period, while representing a very big retail event, is unlikely to herald a fundamental turnaround in retail’s fortunes: it is too dependent on heavy discounting to restore customer confidence and demand to healthy levels again,” concluded Mulcahy.

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