Stats show the United Kingdom is big on Black Friday

OK, it’s not exactly the same as exporting democracy or cutting-edge technology or even reruns of “Mad Men,” but the United States’ latest export is certainly having an effect.

Yep, Black Friday shopping is officially a thing in the United Kingdom. You might have read of the American-style mayhem this year in Britain’s big box stores and elsewhere. The UK version of the shopping tradition, which apparently started in 2010, has been growing ever since, according to the Associated Press. And it’s reached critical mass.

As is often the case when culture is exported, the British have taken Black Friday and added a twist. Despite the in-store scrums, Black Friday in the UK actually looks a lot more like Cyber Monday.

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eMarketer, relying on IBM data, recently reported that Black Friday online sales in the UK grew 96 percent over 2013; while Cyber Monday digital sales in the UK were up only 22 percent from the previous year. The eMarketer report concluded:

“While Cyber Monday has always been a digital event, on both sides of the Atlantic, Black Friday in the U.S. grew up primarily as a physical shopping day, with consumers heading to physical stores to grab their bargains. In the UK, where the day following Thanksgiving has no cultural relevance, the physical element of this event is less pronounced.”

It makes sense that UK shoppers focus on e-commerce on Black Friday, given that they don’t have the luxury of a day off from work, which would allow them to visit brick-and-mortar stores. And it’s telling that mobile played a big role in the UK version of Black Friday, with mobile sales increasing 36 percent over last year; and with mobile making up 60 percent of overall site traffic.

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But the fact that Black Friday is more of a cyber event in the UK than it is in the United States makes sense for another reason: The UK by some key measures has always been more advanced than the United States when it comes to digital commerce. Recent studies show that a larger percentage of the UK’s overall commerce is e-commerce and that the region’s adoption of mobile is outpacing the United States’. All of which is interesting, but doesn’t exactly explain why Great Britain has embraced Black Friday in the first place.

“It’s not a holiday,” says Jess Stephens, the London-based chief marketing officer for marketing software company SmartFocus. “It’s just a normal working day. Why there is Black Friday for us, I don’t really know.”

In the United States, of course, Black Friday falls on the day after Thanksgiving, a day off for many Americans. The day’s proximity to Christmas provided a fairly fat marketing opportunity for retailers, including Macy’s, which kicks off the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving with a parade that welcomes Santa Claus to Manhattan. Kids can begin visiting with the big elf, starting on Black Friday.

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Christine Finn, a UK-based journalist who recently reported on the global shopping frenzy at England’s Bicester Village, says she suspects the Internet and the nature of e-commerce have a lot to do with the UK’s new-found Black Friday interest.

“Certainly this year I noticed the adverts were coming out,” she tells me. “I’m sure that was driven by the online market, because people in the UK are now buying globally in a way that they hadn’t been able to before.”

No doubt digital shoppers for years have been coming across references to “Black Friday” sales in the United States.

“That would probably raise the question: What is this all about?” Finn says. “It’s a relationship between the consumer saying on one hand, ‘What is this? Are we a part of this? If we’re not a part of this, why aren’t we?’ That’s creating a demand, which this year particularly, the retailers have risen to and started our Christmas frenzy so early.”

This appears to be the year that the practice has really taken hold, Finn says.

“It hasn’t really been a big thing over here, but all of the sudden it seems to have become this big retail possibility,” she says. “So, people are being pushed the same way that they’ve been pushed in America. It’s capitalizing on people who are baying for bargains.”

While there obviously was some exuberance over Black Friday in the UK, it’s fair to say that some aren’t quite sure what to make of it. It doesn’t help that Britain already had a Black Friday of sorts. The Friday before Christmas is set aside as a night to drink — a lot.

Excess seems to be the common thread between the Fridays black. And people, obviously, come down on different sides of the excess spectrum.

“There will be those who absolutely will be driven by a bargain, who will be excited by the possibility of yet another day where they can get something for less,” Finn says. “And then there will be those who just don’t want to be a part of it.”

And if it works anything like it works in the United States, those two kinds of people will no doubt be married to each other.

Great Britain: You’re welcome.

Featured photo of line outside of Target by djLicious and photo of Macy’s Santa by Ben+Sam published under Creative Commons license.  Graphics showing Black Friday sales and mobile activity courtesy of eMarketer.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.