Every year sees Black Friday grow in importance for the retail industry with customers fighting over bargains becoming a common sight during November.  

Professor Kim Cassidy, a business lecturer and retail expert from Edge Hill University, assesses whether the growth of online shopping during lockdown has been the last nail in the coffin for the high street or if consumers will be itching to get back into the shops for Christmas.   

In her opinion piece, Professor Cassidy suggests that retailers need to continue to work to take the hassle out of the online experience to keep customers, while physical stores need to focus on stimulating shopper enjoyment within the constraints presented by lockdown restrictions.  

Professor Kim Cassidy

“On December 2nd the current lockdown restraints will end, non-essential shops will re-open and our retail shopping behaviour will change.  

“In a recent interview with Retail Week, the CEO of Superdry suggested that, ‘December 2nd will be like a starting gun and we’ll all be off into the stores. As useful as online is, you can’t beat that in-store experience’. This appears to be a view shared by John Lewis, M&S and Primark who have all been calling for extended Sunday trading hours in the run-up to Christmas to take advantage of a stampede of shoppers.  

So how many consumers will cast aside online shopping and rush to the high street to do their Christmas shopping? How many will have any shopping left to do after the explosion of ‘Black Friday’ sales, with many taking place long before the 27th November? 

“Some basic consumer behaviour is likely to shape events. Pandemic or not, the majority of consumers will be looking for a safe, hassle free, enjoyable shopping experience. So, how do the two options stack up against these criteria? 

Online shopping; a safe, hassle free, enjoyable experience? 

“There is no doubt that online shopping has been the ‘go to’ shopping experience during lockdown. According to the Office for National Statistics, eCommerce represented 33% of UK retail sales in May 2020, a staggering rise from 20% in January.  

“Online retailers have certainly reaped the rewards of this surge in demand. According to analysis reported in the Financial Times, locked-down shoppers drove Amazon’s sales 40% higher helping the company record $5.2bn in net income for the three months to the end of June. That was double what it earned in the same period last year and far higher than analysts’ expectations.  

“There is no doubt that internet shopping represents a physically safe option for consumers and for many, faced with the closure of physical stores, it has certainly proved to be useful. Whether shoppers consider it to be hassle free is more difficult to assess. According to a well-known model in marketing and management, consumers have to perceive internet shopping to be both useful and easy to use to guarantee continued adoption. 

“High and inconsistent delivery charges and confusing and inconvenient returns policies continue to be a major source of frustration and dissatisfaction for many shoppers. Although retailers have made rapid improvements, few are likely to describe their online shopping experience as both hassle free and enjoyable.  

Physical retail; a safe, hassle free, enjoyable experience? 

“So, with Black Friday taking place during lockdown and online sales booming what does the high street have to offer? Some retailers had started to make changes to their business models to bring customers back to the high street. Local butchers offering butchery classes or clothes retailers running dressmaking courses for example. The pandemic has however put these plans on hold meaning it’s business as usual for cities and towns all over the country.  

“At present, a trip to any physical store is unlikely to be described as safe, hassle free or enjoyable, despite the best efforts of retailers. There is no doubt that as long as the virus persists in the community, there’s going to be some who don’t consider it safe enough to venture out shopping.  

“That being said, some consumers are prepared to sacrifice safety in search of an enjoyable, lively experience. As a Christmas buyer from John Lewis noted recently, there seems to be a determination amongst many consumers ‘to end the year on a positive note and indulge in the festive spirit earlier than ever’ including a trip to the shops. This is reflected in the surge in early sales of Christmas trees and decorations. 

“The race is on. Whatever happens on December 2nd there is no room for complacency in the race for shopper loyalty.” 

To find out more about studying Business at Edge Hill University take a look at the range of business courses on offer including BSc (Hons) Business and Economics and BSc (Hons) Business Innovation and Enterprise or related courses such as BSc (Hons) Accountancy and BSc (Hons) Marketing which is approved and accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).