Consumer

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

British consumers are rejecting "Black Eye Friday."

Rather than battle for the best deals in stores, shoppers have chosen to pick up their bargains online, or with the click of their smartphone.

Skipping the Queue
Online sales are growing on Black Friday, while visits to stores are set to decline from last year
Source: Springboard, PCA Predict

As of early Friday, queues outside of stores and scuffles inside were conspicuously absent. That's in stark contrast with two years ago, when fights broke out as consumers sought to snag cut price TVs.

But retailers and their shareholders can't rejoice just yet. Despite the efforts of some to scale back promotions this year, Black Friday is alive and well on the internet -- making the whole event even more painful for retailers. 

Logging On
This Black Friday, U.K. online transactions are outpacing those in 2015
Source: PCA Predict
As of 2pm

Argos, now owned by J Sainsbury Plc, Dixons Carphone Plc and John Lewis all reported brisk online trading early in the day. Dixons said online orders are up 40% at its Currys PC World operation compared with last year.

Black Friday promotions have little place in the U.K. Most Britons are at work on Friday rather than on holiday, and offering discounts on products that would have sold at full price in the run up to Christmas makes no sense.

Selling goods online, rather than in store, is even more challenging.

Retailers have to invest cash to ensure their websites can handle the additional traffic. Hennes & Mauritz AB's main website experienced delays due to a high volume of Black Friday shoppers.

Amazon.com Inc., Argos, Tesco and Dixons Carphone have been advertising deals all week in an effort to spread the burden on their systems.

If websites don't buckle under the strain, there is the cost of transporting goods to stores for click-and-collect orders -- which are usually free -- or to consumers' homes, which can also sometimes be free.

In the days before Amazon disrupted shopping, consumers bore the cost of physically going to stores, picking up goods and transporting them home again. Now, the retailer that must do this. Last year, John Lewis introduced a two-pound charge for click-and-collect orders of less than 30 pounds, branding free delivery a "bonkers" model.

Finally, there are the returns. As Gadfly has noted, customers shopping for themselves often buy multiple sizes of garments to get the right fit. That can lead customers to return as much as half of the goods they buy.

Shifting Black Friday online does little to take away the pain for retailers. It simply makes the event even more corrosive to earnings.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Andrea Felsted in London at afelsted@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net