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A short history of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and why they might have peaked)

A short history of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and why they might have peaked)
Image source: Getty Images

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now an annual feature in the calendar. Like it or loathe it, there is no escaping the flash sales and adverts you see every year. But, how has the tradition grown in the UK over the years? And have we reached peak Black Friday and Cyber Monday yet? Read on to find out.

When did Black Friday and Cyber Monday originate in the UK?

Black Friday first appeared in the UK in 2010. Unsurprisingly, it was the online retail giant Amazon that brought the concept over from the US, offering a series of deals and discounts to consumers.

Despite being a major event in the US since the 1970s, it didn’t immediately become popular in the UK.

Amazon was largely on its own promoting Black Friday in the UK until 2013 when Asda took part. At this point, it really started to take off.

The following year, many big retailers began to introduce their own targeted offers and sales have grown year on year.

Cyber Monday took off at a similar time but has grown in popularity as online shopping becomes more prevalent.

How have they grown over the years?

Since they began in the UK, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have largely grown every year, with the exception of 2020.

In 2016, £7.28 billion was spent over the weekend. This increased to £7.78 billion in 2017 and £8.29 billion in 2018, according to Statista.

So far, the biggest Black Friday on record in terms of sales is 2019 with £8.57 billion recorded.

2020 saw a dip in sales to £7.95 billion. This is not surprising given the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions.

Notably, even pre-Covid, the percentage of online sales as opposed to the in-store purchases has grown.

Covid-19 appears to have accelerated this trend, and this year, 61% of sales are predicted to take place online. For comparison, in 2016 just 38% of Black Friday purchases were made online.

What is the estimated size of Black Friday sales this year?

This year’s figures are still estimates, but major retailers and payment providers are claiming 2021 was the biggest-ever Black Friday sales day in the UK.

PwC predicted £9 billion would be spent on Black Friday, with men spending on average 60% more than women (£338 vs £210). With 74% of shoppers buying for themselves rather than stocking up on Christmas presents, there’s still a lot of money to be spent between now and 25 December.

The Big 4 consultancy estimated 60% of UK adults would make purchases this year.

Meanwhile, Nationwide predicted this year’s Black Friday spending would be 32% higher than the pre-pandemic peak.

In the most up-to-date data available at the time of writing, Barclaycard, which processes around £1 in every £3 spent using cards, said that by 5pm UK time on Black Friday there were 23% more transactions than at the same point in 2020.

Obviously, it’s hard to compare with last year as the UK had strict Covid-19 restrictions in place. The notable figure is that there was a 2.4% increase in the volume of payments compared with the same period on Black Friday in 2019.

This increase is only likely to grow, as 5pm to 12am are the most popular times to make purchases as consumers turn to bargain hunting after they finish work.

What could happen in future years?

There are two schools of thought on the future of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Some suggest these sale days will keep increasing as consumer demand and interest rise. Others believe we may be reaching peak Black Friday.

This year, there were protests outside Amazon buildings in the UK, the US and Europe, arguing that Black Friday and Cyber Monday epitomise an obsession with over-consumption. 

Meanwhile, Fashion Revolution called on retailers and consumers alike to boycott the sales weekend this year. The campaign favours shopping mindfully and sustainably all year round.

As the climate crisis becomes ever more prevalent, perhaps more brands will think twice before participating in these sales in the future.

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