Big fall in Black Friday UK retail sales despite online spending boom

Richard Partington
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock

Retail sales on Black Friday have fallen sharply despite a boom in online spending as non-essential shops remain closed on England’s high streets during the second coronavirus lockdown.

Retailers said online sales hit record levels on the pivotal discount day to soften the blow from the closure of stores. However, UK figures from Barclaycard, Britain’s biggest credit card provider, show payments made in physical stores and online fell by more than a 10th comparedwith Black Friday a year ago.

John Lewis said Friday would break all of its previous records for online spending, with sales up by 35% compared with its busiest day during the same period a year ago. It said 2.5m products had already been shipped since it started offering Black Friday offers on 20 November – up 67% on last year – and that record searches had been made for new games consoles, beauty products and Lego kits.

However, the boom comes at a time when the company will record zero sales at all 38 of its shops in England, and at its Glasgow store, where government restrictions have forced the closure of shops. Cardiff, Aberdeen and Edinburgh remain open.

Barclaycard, which processes nearly £1 in every £3 spent in the UK, said most Black Friday sales typically take place in physical shops, underscoring the potential hit to retailers struggling during the pandemic. It warned that overall payments made to retailers between midnight and noon on Friday had plunged by 16.7% compared with the same time a year ago.

In a typical year, about two-thirds of the transactions processed by Barclaycard on Black Friday come from in-store sales, with the rest coming from online.

The research provider Springboard, which monitors retail footfall, said visits to shopping destinations were down by 58% across the UK by 3pm on Friday compared with last year. Footfall was down most on high streets and at shopping centres. The biggest fall was in central London, with a drop of 82.9%.

However, the decline in footfall was far lower in Wales and Scotland where Covid restrictions allow more shops to open. Footfall in Wales was down by a third across the country compared with Black Friday a year ago, while retail visits were down by 50% in Scotland.

Separate figures from Nationwide show total spending by its debit card holders – which unlike Barclaycard do not specify whether payments are being made to a retailer – increased by 21% compared with the same day a week ago, as Black Friday provided a boost during lockdown. However, it said transactions were 1% down on Black Friday a year ago.

The figures underscore the challenge facing Britain’s retailers in the run-up to the key Christmas shopping period, when more than a fifth of annual sales usually take place. The British Retail Consortium estimates that shops that were forced to close over the past month have lost a combined £8bn in sales.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show online sales accounted for about 28.5% of all spending in October, compared with 19% in January before the emergency struck. Online food sales have nearly doubled. Clothing stores have managed to drive up online sales by 17.1%, but these gains have been outweighed by a 22.1% fall in spending in physical stores.

Rob Cameron, the chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said: “Despite the fall in transactions, the silver lining remains the growth of e-commerce. Already this month Barclaycard has seen a 32% increase in the value of online transactions processed, and this is even higher in key ‘gift’ categories such as electronics, cosmetics and jewellery.

“This growth signals both a change in consumer behaviour, with people unable to buy gifts in-store, and the fact that many retailers have been spreading out their discounts throughout November, meaning shoppers can take advantage of early bargains.”