Retailers are considering scaling back this year’s Black Friday discounting frenzy amid fears over crowds spreading Covid-19 and the impact on profit margins.
The imported US shopping event takes place on November 27 and retailers have begun forward-planning in earnest.
The shopping bonanza has become commonplace in the UK in recent years, spreading from electricals retailing into sectors like fashion. It has increasingly become an online event, but still draws large numbers of shoppers to stores to do their Christmas shopping early.
Jace Tyrell, chief executive of the New West End Company which represents 600 businesses in the area, said: “We will have to have some serious conversations about the retail situation in the West End and what will happen this winter in the run up to Christmas.
“Black Friday will be a particular challenge in terms of people management and we have to have a conversation about whether doing Black Friday in a Covid world is right and responsible.”
The West End is currently quiet but there are hopes that some tourism spending will return in the autumn and winter.
Peter Cowgill, executive chairman of JD Sports, told the Standard: “Unless there is a change like a vaccine then Black Friday and Christmas will be difficult because there are a series of events in consecutive weekends and the industry will find it difficult to accommodate. You cannot accommodate the same level of customers.”
JD offered big Black Friday discounts last year, but rival Nike saw its Oxford Circus flagship store swamped with shoppers not observing social distancing measures on reopening last month.
However, some senior retail sources said under-pressure margins would more likely dictate whether chains participated in the promotional event this year.
“People are nervously looking at each other, no one has made up their mind,” said one. “This might be less about crowds and more about whether retailer can afford it. Black Friday delays purchases before it and sucks sales forward from Christmas. Retailers are suffering at the moment and it will come down to whether it makes financial sense and you can make a decent margin.”
He added: “Many retailers that rely heavily on physical stores still dislike Black Friday so it’s in their interests to play its significance down.”
However, Halfords chief executive Graham Stapleton said last week: “Black Friday is predominantly an online event. We tend to see significant growth online. We don’t tend to have an issue with big crowds in stores on Black Friday so it’s not a problem, but it might be a challenge for other retailers who do not have big online businesses.”