It's a bizarre Black Friday without the jingle tills

There won't be any traffic jams on this Black Friday. The normally bustling high streets will be deserted, the shop shutters firmly shut.

Deserted – Dudley Street, Wolverhampton
Deserted – Dudley Street, Wolverhampton

Black Friday, said to take its name from the traffic mayhem which used to take place on the day after Thanksgiving in America, is going to be very different this year.

With the nation under lockdown, and all but essential retailers forced to close, there will be no crowds, and the only queues will be socially distanced and at the supermarkets. And the sight of customers wrestling over that cut-price television will hopefully be conspicuous by its absence this year.

According to the Nationwide building society, the amount of money being spent on Black Friday will today fall for the first time in a decade.

It forecasts a 20 per cent drop in transactions as people wait for the shops to reopen on Wednesday next week.

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Mark Nalder, head of payments at Nationwide, says that while the building society had been forecasting a Black Friday boost this year, the second lockdown had forced it to revisit its predictions.

“Spending had begun to return back to normal levels in the weeks preceding the second lockdown," says Mr Nalder.

"As a result, we were expecting Black Friday transactions to exceed last year by a margin of around 12 per cent.

"However, tighter restrictions mean people are being understandably cautious and many, particularly those who enjoy getting to the shops and stores, will likely wait until stores are back open again before making their big pre-Christmas purchases, meaning we expect the number of transactions to drop by up to 20 per cent on what we had previously forecast for this year.”

The society had initially forecast eight million transactions would take place today. But the impact of the lockdown has seen the figure now fall to 6.5 million, with £225 million being spent – down from £247 million last year.

Meole Brace shopping centre, Shrewsbury, during lockdown

Nevertheless, a growth in online shopping means that Black Friday – and Cyber Monday next week – are still big business.

Mr Nalder says people in Briton will spend an average of £172 each today, and a further £160 on Monday.

Almost two thirds say they have delayed buying items in order to snap up a bargain on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, with 51 per cent using it as a chance to get discounted Christmas presents.

They could be in for a disappointment though, according to consumer group Which?

The organisation tracked the prices of 219 popular products advertised as ‘Black Friday deals’ across Amazon, AO.com, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis, and found that 85 per cent of these so-called ‘deals’ were actually cheaper or the same price in the six months before. Indeed, when Which? compared a year’s worth of prices for these products, only three of them – one per cent – were at their cheapest price of the year on Black Friday.

Natalie Hitchins, head of home products at the group, says that while it might be tempting to scour the internet for bargains while stuck at home, most people can get the same deal or better at a different time of year.

“Deals that look too good to be true often are, so don’t fall for time-limited offers and if you are looking for something in particular, do some research first,"she says.

"That way you’ll know a genuine bargain when you see one."

Cheaper

Which? found Currys PC World to be the biggest offender when it came to Black Friday deals that weren't all they seemed. Of the 49 products the investigation looked at, 47 had been offered at either the same or a better price during the previous six months.

John Lewis fared little better, with 70 of the 78 – almost 90 per cent – of Black Friday deals having previously been offered cheaper or the same price.

A total of 86 per cent of Black Friday deals at Argos and AO had been offered cheaper or the same price before the big day.

Even Amazon, which fared the best out the retailers investigated by Which? had been offered 57 per cent of its products for the same or a better price over the six months before Black Friday.

Among the examples, Which? found that at Currys PC World a set of Bose Quietcomfort headphones was £249 on Black Friday but had been cheaper or the same price on at least 15 occasions in the six months before while a £1,285 coffee machine on offer at John Lewis had not only been offered at the same price or better on no fewer than 35 occasions over the previous six months, but had had also been on sale for below £1,200 on several days during May and June 2019.

Which? also found that at AO a Zanussi fridge freezer was £549 on Black Friday but had been sold at that price on 153 days in the six months before Black Friday – 84 per cent of the time.

While the lockdown has been bad news for the high street, it has provided a big boost to internet retailers, with six in 10 consumers saying the pandemic had changed their shopping habits, and encouraged them to buy online. Sixteen per cent said the requirement to wear a mask put them off shopping in-store.

People who do switch to online shopping are being urged to be mindful of con artists after it emerged that £36 million had been lost to internet fraudsters this year.

Research by Specops Software found that there were 64,070 cases of internet shopping fraud recorded by 44 police forces during the first 10 months of 2020, with the West Midlands force area recording the second highest number of crimes. A total of 3,104 offences were committed in the area, resulting in people being defrauded out of £1.4 million.

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