Focusing on the latest data, IMRG anticipates online sales growth of just +2-3% for the Black Friday period – the lowest forecast ever put out for a major online sales event – “with a very real possibility it could be flat.”
The Black Friday period is defined as an eight-day period running from 25 November through 2 December, though the exact timeframe that “the Black Friday period” occupies has also gone through some shifts over recent years, starting out as being a day, then a weekend, then a week and, in some cases now, a month which has been dubbed “‘Blackvember”.
The December online retail forecast is +1-2%, though what happens over the Christmas period more broadly has become heavily dependent on Black Friday trading, according to IMRG.
This year has been a tough year for retail and, while the problems on the high street have been well documented, online sales growth has been very subdued too.
At the start of the year, IMRG predicted that the online retail market would grow by +9% in 2019. With nine months’ worth of data now in, the year-to-date figure (Jan-Sep in 2019 versus the same period in 2018) is currently sitting at +4.9%.
Now we are well and truly into the peak trading period of the year, where many retailers expect to make around a quarter of their annual sales in just two months, the chances that Black Friday, and Christmas more broadly, are going to bring a turnaround in fortunes are slim.
According to Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG: “it’s difficult at this point to see how the peak trading period is going to be anything other than weak from a revenue perspective, and may potentially even be completely flat.
“Shopper confidence is at a low ebb. There are a number of reasons why shoppers are proving unresponsive to retailer campaigns, but the primary one is likely to be related to the number of prominent retailers who have gone into administration, closed stores, or reported falling sales.”
As demand has been low, many retailers will be carrying a lot of excess stock, meaning there may be notably more deals available with many retailers stuck in a discounting spiral.
People are reluctant to buy higher-cost items when they have concerns over whether the retailer they are purchasing from will still be around to fulfil their order. Then there’s the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit to contend with.