Suffolk retailers turn backs on Black Friday

Ipswich Christmas Lights Switch on from Cornhill Square. Picture: NIGEL BROWN

Ipswich Christmas Lights Switch on from Cornhill Square. Picture: NIGEL BROWN - Credit: Archant

A number of Suffolk retailers are turning their backs on Black Friday because they feel it doesn’t deliver any benefits.

Bury St Edmunds Christmas lights switched on. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Bury St Edmunds Christmas lights switched on. Picture: GREGG BROWN

One Suffolk retailer, who asked not to be named, said Black Friday had “dramatically altered” pre-Christmas trading, because it held back consumer spend to the week of the sale. He added that his store would not be participating in the national bargain-fest on Friday, November 24.

“You are challenged constantly by customers who say: ‘What deals are you going to do?’” he said.

“It’s something you have to live with, but the problem with any discount is you are driven down to the lowest common denominator.”

Retailers had to contend with suppliers who decided to discount their products as a result of the Black Friday phenomenon in a pre-Christmas period which was a key time for many stores, he explained. “It forces a huge logistical challenge and it defers trade.”

Paul Glasswell, managing director at home furnishings chain Glasswells, said it didn’t suit his business as a lot of the stores’ furniture was made to order and therefore premium bespoke, rather than the kinds of off-the-shelf items usually available in a Black Friday deal. However, he was expecting strong demand for gifts and products this season.

“Having offered some Black Friday deals over the past few years, we have found that it isn’t a promotion that is particularly well suited or taken up in the home furnishings marketplace, as perhaps it is in electrical, clothing and online,” he explained.

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“We have just finished our refurbishment events at Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich and the majority of the new products on display, are exactly that - brand new, which means there is not too much product to be cleared.”

The store still had some overstocked lines and cancelled orders which it reduced down for customers in the usual way, he said.

“Historically, we have not seen Black Friday impact on our pre-Christmas sales and I don’t see this Christmas being any different from previous years.”

Mark Cordell, chief executive at Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District, said the town didn’t participate in any co-ordinated way in Black Friday as it had its own Christmas fair which takes place from November 23 to 26, and a host of attractions, including a traditional carousel, dodgems and a Santa’s Grotto, laid on in December in the Arc shopping centre.

“When it (Black Friday) first started it was an interesting concept, but each year it’s always falling on the Friday or our Christmas fair,” he explained.

While some of the major retailers participated in national Black Friday events, the focus in the town was on the fair and then the festive attractions in the run-up to Christmas, he said.

The fair brings in an extra 100,000 people and 400 stalls to the town, he explained, making Black Friday redundant, and they continued to freshen up the town’s offer.

“It’s over the top to say it’s an irrelevance but it almost is,” he said. “We think the success of the town over the last few years is based on the activities and events in the town centre.”

Town trade was “pretty buoyant”, he said, but added: “We are doing very well but we mustn’t rest on our laurels.”

Ipswich’s BID scheme, Ipswich Central, is countering the Black Friday online challenge with a strong town offer, and a “Social High Street” to entice shoppers.

“There is no doubt that events such as Black Friday have changed Christmas shopping and the approach to it forever as they focus heavily on supposed ‘online bargains’ which draw people away from the high street very early in the trading season and tend to be the domain of national retailers,” said Ipswich Central marketing director Fiona Wright.

“To counteract this online push, Ipswich is running its very own #christmasinipswich campaign to promote everything the town has. It is also really important that town centre retailers offer their customers great service and a great in-store experience so customers want to return.”

Events such as Small Business Saturday on December 2 have also been added to the retail calendar to celebrate the role of local businesses up and down the UK, she pointed out.

It was “much more about connecting people with their place than Black Friday”, she said.

Ipswich Central is hoping that new draws such as Jack Wills, Swarosvski, Tessuti (opening soon) Joules, Bromley & Co and Ohh Deer! will attract more trade over the festive season.