Black Friday Makes Drama-Free U.K. Return as Chaos Averted

Retail, Real Estate and the Evolution of Black Friday
  • No repeat of last year's unrest among bargain hunters
  • ao.com's Black Friday sales have doubled from last year

U.K. retailers breathed a sigh of relief as Black Friday started without the mayhem that characterized the event last year.

Tesco Plc, the U.K.’s largest retailer, is “very pleased” with how the day is progressing and has witnessed no repeat of the unrest that occurred at some stores last year, according to a company official. The supermarket chain closed all its larger stores, which are usually open 24 hours a day, between midnight and 5 a.m. to give staff time to prepare. Orderly lines formed outside many outlets before shoppers were allowed in.

In the U.K., Black Friday sales events are still in their infancy. Retailers were caught out by their popularity last year, when camera crews filmed bargain hunters flooding into stores and fighting over an inadequate number of cut-price televisions and smartphones. To prevent a repeat, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda canceled Black Friday this year, opting to spread its discounting from November into January.

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“The day is beginning to become synonymous with queues, brawls and general mayhem,” Tim Vallance, lead director of U.K. retail at property firm JLL, said by e-mail. “Consumers and retailers alike will want to see more orders driven online.”

A recent poll suggests that may be happening. Only 13 percent of Britons planned to visit a store to grab a bargain this Black Friday, compared with 35 percent that intended to scour websites for deals, according to a survey conducted yesterday by researcher Kantar. More than half of the 3,604 people interviewed had no plans to seek a discount.

Currys PC World, a unit of Dixons Carphone Plc, said it had a record start to Black Friday, with 30 televisions being sold online every minute. Visits to the website of the Argos chain, owned by Home Retail Group Plc, exceeded 2.5 million, the company said by e-mail. By 9 a.m., the number of transactions on appliance retailer ao.com’s site doubled compared with last year.

Not everybody was staying indoors. In London’s West End shopping district, the number of visitors to shops and designer boutiques was up 10 percent on last year. The New West End Company, which represents retailers in the area, expects Black Friday to be the busiest day of 2015.

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