LONDON – This side of the Atlantic may not have Thanksgiving or long bank holiday weekends, but that isn’t stopping Europeans flocking to the high streets and online sales in search of good deals.
Black Friday started catching on in Europe years ago, with one-day sales focused on electronics and home appliances. Businesses now consider it one of the biggest days on the retail calendar, with discounts across the board on clothing, groceries, theater tickets, holiday travel packages and the like. Sales in the UK often last through the month of November as people respond to discounts by moving forward with their Christmas shopping.
Still, this holiday season may be less of a bonanza than usual for European businesses – typically a large chunk of annual sales. With energy bills, mortgage payments and retail prices rising, consumers have less money for Christmas presents. Many imported goods have become more expensive against the dollar due to the weaker pound and the euro.
This pressure could push shoppers to focus their purchases on Friday. Jessica Distler, partner and managing director of Boston Consulting Group in Berlin and author of a recent Black Friday report, said economic concerns are likely to push European consumers to shop more on Black Friday to grab the best bargains.
“There’s more focus on promotional offers because you’re scared of those and you have less budget,” she said.
According to a Boston Consulting Group survey of more than 7,000 consumers in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, European consumers said their spending will be down this year compared to last year. The survey, which also polled more than 2,000 consumers in Australia and the United States, found that only US consumers said they planned to increase their spending over last year.
In the UK, consumers said they were spending an average of 18 percent less on Christmas shopping than last year as they save on non-essential items due to price increases, the survey found.
Although its popularity has grown, Black Friday shopping in Europe lacked the same frenetic energy as in the United States, said Tom Holder, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, the trade association for British retailers.
“There’s never been an American style like this, we hold back the doors and everyone rushes in,” said Mr. Holder. “A few stores might have been able to do that, but it wasn’t the ‘let’s go totally crazy’ thing.”
In the UK, where annual inflation was above 11 per cent in October, there are already signs this holiday season could be disappointing for retailers. According to a report released last week by Britain’s Office for National Statistics, retail sales volumes (excluding autofuel) fell 6.7 percent compared to October last year.
Black Friday comes as companies in Europe are also plagued by staff shortages and have had to raise wages to attract workers. Three-quarters of British businesses were hit by labor shortages last year, according to a survey of 325 businesses released last month by the Confederation of British Industry, a trade association. According to the study, almost half of the affected companies cannot meet customer requirements.