Traders’ concern as call for restraint follows scheme to spend local
Retailers in Northern Ireland are hoping that recent mixed messages from Stormont won’t lead to a ‘Bleak Friday’ this year.
For many on the high street, the timing of the Executive’s latest guidance on coronavirus could not have been worse — coming so soon after the Spend Local card scheme which was aimed at getting shoppers back into stores.
This year’s Black Friday — the opportunity for traders to recoup losses using a one-day bargain blast — will come just three days after ministers reiterated the need for increased social distancing in the wake of a worrying spike in Covid-19 infections.
It remains to be seen whether the 2021 sales extravaganza on November 26 will be a high street success, or a travesty at the tills with bargain hunters preferring to go online instead of venturing into the shops.
One Belfast store manager said: “We don’t really know what it’s going to be like on Friday. We’re hoping that people come out and support us but there’s just so much confusion about the right thing to do at the minute.”
The retailer, who asked not to be named, added: “Northern Ireland went into another lockdown on Black Friday last year, so this year’s sales can only be better than that.”
Signs in shop windows in the city centre indicated that there were plenty of bargains on hand, with many promising ‘up to 60% off’ selected items.
Black billboards hanging from the ceiling in health and beauty retailer Boots said ‘Biggest Ever Black Friday’.
A poster at White Stuff, a fashion and lifestyle store, in Corn Market was advertising ‘Black Fortnight’ while House of Fraser department store in Victoria Square shopping centre promised its patrons a ‘£20 voucher with every £100 spend in store now’.
Retail intelligence experts Springboard are forecasting a surge in shopping in Northern Ireland on Black Friday, with footfall expected to rise on the high street, in shopping centres and retail parks.
Diane Wehrle, Insights director at Springboard, said they expect footfall to increase now “with retailing back to full throttle”.
“High streets and shopping centres will be the winners in terms of the uplift in shopper numbers, as consumers make the most of the opportunity to grab Christmas presents early to ensure they don't suffer from any supply shortages but also soak up the Christmas feel that was so absent last year,” she said.
Ms Wehrle added: “Retail parks will continue to appeal to shoppers due to the compelling discounting offered by electrical and homeware retailers that is a key feature of Black Friday, together with their accessibility and free parking, which makes it easy and convenient for shoppers to click and collect online purchases.”
Not all retailers, such as clothing giant Next, in the city centre were participating in Black Friday but many including fashion boutiques Jack Wills, Jigsaw, Joules, Mango and Fat Face, were trying to entice shoppers with between 25% and 60% off.
This year, customers can expect to be offered excellent deals as coronavirus-hit retailers cry out for customers — and many will be willing to do whatever it takes to boost their coffers before Christmas.
After a horror show of falling sales, lots of retailers have kicked their sales off early by launching their deals and offering decent discounts ahead of the big day in order to make up for lost custom.
Mobile phones, furniture, laptops, home appliances, TVs, games consoles, toys and clothes are all up for grabs, at a fraction of their usual price, from big names such as Currys, Argos, Boots, Apple, Amazon and House of Fraser.
Super sales on sought-after products are always welcome, but this year they will be needed more than ever to help with the cost of Christmas as people struggle to make ends meet after a year when Covid-19 wreaked havoc on many lives through job losses and falling income.
Black Friday is a tradition that originated in America where retailers trying to get 'out of the red and into the black' slash prices on a huge selection of items the day after Thanksgiving — but the event has been fully embraced by the UK and is now an annual phenomenon here.
People can now expect major UK retailers to reduce prices on a large range of products including big budget electrical goods, tech, beauty, smart devices and kitchen equipment.
Cross-category retailers generally have the best deals on the most-wanted products, although there are exceptions.
Black Friday is now the biggest shopping event of the year with tens of thousands of brands and retailers taking part.
It will be followed three days later by Cyber Monday, which is generally acknowledged as the busiest day of the year for online shopping.