Black Friday Meets the Winter of Discontent

Everything is stacked against retailers (and shoppers) at the moment. This will be a tricky festive trading period for most

James Gard 25 November, 2022 | 11:59AM
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The shopping phenomenon known as Black Friday is less than a decade old in the UK but it’s now an established part of the pre-Christmas retail calendar. An import from the US – thanks guys! - it started with fistfights over discounted TVs but has now become a more civilised period of online shopping.

Changing shopping patterns after the pandemic have shifted the emphasis now on monitoring your favourite online retailers. Your average customer will have spent this week and today in particular deleting hundreds of emails but being careful not to throw out the real “bargains”, 10% or 20% off items you were going to buy anyway from shops. In a period of 11% inflation, some of these deals are not to be sniffed at and may make the difference for hard-pressed consumers intent on keeping the festive period as normal as possible.

Countless retailers, including Next (NXT) and John Lewis, have warned that this Christmas period will be a tough one for shoppers and by extension the companies themselves. The phrase “cost of living crisis” may seem too obvious an excuse for weak trading figures – just wait till January when the profit warnings start rolling in – but it feels like a unique year of hardship. Political chaos is still fresh in the memory, and although this has abated in the Sunak/Hunt era, it’s hard to not to feel that this is a calm before more storms.

The OBR has already confirmed that the UK is in recession, mortgages have been getting more expensive this year as the Bank of England hikes rates, and inflation is showing no signs of budging yet. Energy bills are eating into post-tax incomes, although the government’s support is easing some of the pain. Food bills keep soaring too. Workers will also be braced for tax rises next year as allowances are frozen and the threshold for additional rate tax drops.

Strikes Everywhere

And Britain is in the grip of multiple strikes, some of which have a direct impact on retail: Royal Mail workers, who deliver many of the non-Amazon or courier parcels for Christmas, are on strike currently and plan to walk out on November 30 and December 1. For those wanting to brave the shops via public transport to hunt for Black Friday bargains, some rail workers are striking on Saturday November 26 – with more disruption expected in the run-up to Christmas. You can add teachers, nurses, university lecturers to that list too – hardly benign conditions for a retail extravaganza.

Here we have a list of retailers to watch in the coming weeks – some have fared badly this year (Next, down 26%), while others have prospered (Frasers Group (FRAS), up 13%). Not all retailers are equally affected, and the list of reasons above may be enough to put off even the most hardy investor in buying into the sector.

This disruption will not just affect retailers, it will have a knock-on effect on all hospitality businesses, which are themselves fighting against higher bills, lower footfall and staff shortages. Many are still to regain “normal” levels of trade after multiple UK lockdowns.

Trade body UKHospitality says there is worse to come for the sector. Its chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The impact of rail strikes already this year has been devastating and wide-reaching, but this will pale in comparison to what we will see as a result of the upcoming strikes in December.

“These strikes damage all parts of society and it's now time that the Government proactively brings all partners to the table to deliver a solution that protects the nation's workers and hospitality customers this Christmas.”

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James Gard

James Gard  is senior editor for


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