IMRG pessimistic on Black Friday spending season online

today Nov 13, 2019
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Are you expecting a good Christmas shopping season? Perhaps you might be too optimistic, even if you expect online to be strong. IMRG, which tracks internet sales, issued a Black Friday period prediction on Wednesday and it made gloomy reading.

Christmas spending online could be muted this year

For the Black Friday period, it expects e-sales growth of just 2% or 3% “but with a very real possibility it could be flat”. And the researcher’s December online retail forecast is for a modest increase of between 1% and 2%.

Andy Mulcahy, its Strategy and Insight Director, said that “it won’t have escaped many people’s notice that 2019 has been a pretty tough year for retail. The problems on the high street are well documented, but online sales growth has been very subdued too”. And he thinks this will continue.

At the start of the year, IMRG had predicted that the online retail market would be up 9% in 2019, but with nine months’ worth of data now in, the year-to-date figure is only +4.9%. 

IMRG said “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”.

Mulcahy said 2019’s second-half growth has been mirroring the general direction of 2018, but with slower growth than last year. In fact, growth in September 2019 “approached zero, with nine of the 15 categories IMRG tracks reporting negative growth”.

He said that with the exception of beauty, growth for every sector is currently tracking behind where it was at this point last year and “shopper demand seems to be very suppressed”.

The weak forecast for the Black Friday period (the eight days running from late November through to December 2) is the lowest forecast IMRG has ever put out for a major online sales event before. “But, given the myriad problems retail is currently experiencing, there seems a very real possibility that sales could well be flat or even negative,” Mulcahy added.

Looking at November so far, the company, which tracks 300 retail sites, has been monitoring the rate of headline discount that’s on offer, how widespread the discounting is, when Black Friday-specific campaigns are switched on, and more.
While very few retailers tend to launch their official Black Friday campaigns this far away from the big day (November 29 this year), IMRG said it’s “telling to note the level of discounts that are already available before the ‘core discounting period’ arrives”. 

On the first Monday of the month (November 4) seven of those 300 already had Black Friday campaigns live. However, a further 138 had non-Black Friday discount campaigns live, “many of which were offering very high rates of discount”.

It added that “what happens over the Christmas period more broadly has become heavily dependent on Black Friday trading and recent years have shown “a clear pattern of decline” for December compared to Black Friday with sales revenue falling 15% in 2018.

Black Friday will serve as “a strong indicator of seasonal shopper demand this year but, even if growth comes in as expected, December is still only likely to just about manage positive year-on-year growth,” IMRG explained.

It thinks there are several key issues to blame including lack of shopper confidence in retailers to still be in existence when the big-ticket items they’ve paid for are ready for delivery.

Other issues include an endless discounting cycle, spending on experiences rather than products and, of course, Brexit.

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