Why the UK has rushed to embrace Black Friday

Despite concerns about violence, the US sales event has gotten a firm grip across the Atlantic ... no Thanksgiving necessary

Five years after arriving in the UK, Black Friday is still a topic of controversy among culture observers concerned about the violence and commercialism of this American import.

According to business analysts Fifty-Five, Black Friday has now become the UK's favorite day to spend money, overtaking Boxing Day on Dec. 26. "This year sales will most certainly surpass last year’s record spend of £810 million ($1.2 billion) and will easily top £1 billion ($1.5 billion)," said Fifty-Five Managig Director Rob Fenton. "Without a doubt today will become the biggest online retail event in UK history."

But not everyone is participating in store events that have generated images of stampeding shoppers that resemble Black Friday in the US. Retailers such as Asda and Primark are not taking part this year.

According to Bill Fisher, a London-based analyst at eMarketer, the very fact that Asda's announcement made news is a sign of how far Black Friday has advanced in British consciousness. "Two years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid," Fisher said. "It's very entrenched."

While the pandemonium of doorbuster sales is certainly part of Black Friday in the UK, the fact that British consumers don't have a Thanksgiving weekend with a Friday holiday means that e-commerce is a bigger factor in Black Friday sales. As Fisher put it, "People do manage to get away and fight in stores, but there's a much bigger digital aspect here."

The combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the UK has powered a rise in e-commerce. While e-commerce accounts for 14.5% of UK retail year round, Fisher said, that number rises to 17.1% during November and December.

And last year, Black Friday's impact knocked over many of the biggest retailers online. Among the UK brands whose sites went down on Black Friday were the Tesco retail chain, John Lewis department stores, electronics retailers PCWorld and Currey’s, Argos (a catalogue company), Game (a digital gaming retail store), and Boots pharmacy chain.

According to eMarketer's Fisher, UK consumers have embraced Black Friday because it fills a void in the country's shopping schedule. "Until Black Friday, we had no day pre-Christmas for shopping," he said. "It may be a false holiday  here, but consumers have gobbled it up.

"Historically, Christmas shopping has kind of meandered, with the idea people would panic throughout December. There never has been this marked point in time — so Black Friday gives you a kind of excuse to to get your act together."

An advertising blowout
Black Friday has also spawned its own ads in the UK, many of them mocking the hysteria associated with in-store events. 


The ad shows the contrast between the craziness of Black Friday shopping (hitting fellow customers, losing your toupee) and Doddle’s easy delivery service.  It was created by Fold7.

Kit Kat

J Walter Thompson created an ad for Kit Kat that subverts a universal symbol of buying, the barcode. Two fingers of Kit Kat are part of the barcode along with the brand's tagline, "Have a break". It ran in the Metro newspaper Friday morning, at Westfield shopping centers in London and on Kit Kat's social media channels.

Currys PC World

With more stock than ever, you can say cheerio to shop floor fisticuffs this #BlackFriday! #BritishBlackFriday http://go.currys.co.uk/cJDjbi

Posted by Currys PC World on Thursday, November 26, 2015

Currys PC World encourages UK shoppers not to "throw your Britishness out the window this Black Friday" and maintain a sense of dignity amongst the frenzy. "You can enjoy Black Friday without the black eyes," the video says.


Get ready. This Friday £1000s worth of tech will crash to the floor in O2 Price Crash: http://o2.uk/PriceCrash

Posted by O2 on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

O2 went all in as well, claiming "no price is safe" on Black Friday. The brand is selling devices such as the HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Tab S2 for as little as £1. 


On the back of its popular Christmas Shopper Simulator that got 24 million YouTube views last year, video games retailer Game has unveiled Christmas Shopper Simulator 2: Black Friday. Trailers for the game show shopper stampedes, fire extinguishers, an in-game selfie stick, and stores such as Meat Buns Burger Bar and Britain's Got Talons. 101 created the campaign.


We’re proud to say that we don’t do a #BlackFriday, meaning you get to rest easy everyday that we’ll always save you money. Big thanks to award winning cartoonist Tony Husband for the cartoon!

Posted by Aldi UK on Friday, November 27, 2015

Aldi claims it doesn’t do Black Friday, instead offering low prices year-round. The retailer posted illustrations by cartoonist Tony Huband on its social media channels mocking the day. It also got buzz the day before Black Friday by releasing a spoof of John Lewis’ "Man on the Moon" Christmas ad.

Brittaney Kiefer of Campaign UK contributed to this report.

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