Black Friday fever has been dampened by days of early discounts, with many online and high street shoppers choosing to stay in bed rather than battle for bargains in the early hours.
The number of shoppers online between midnight and 7am dived by 24% on last year according to e-commerce trends service PCA Predict, after an 11% rise in shopping over the previous week.
“This longer sales period has shifted the emphasis away from Black Friday being a major retail event in its own right, towards becoming part of a pre-Christmas mini-season or ‘golden quarter’ for retailers,” said Chris Boaz, head of marketing of PCA Predict.
Evidence of a slow start in the UK to the US-inspired discount day was also seen on the high street as retail experts pointed to empty stores at chains which had opened early to prepare for queues of bargain hunters.
Gordon McKinnon, operations director at shopping centre group Intu, owner of Manchester’s Trafford Centre and the Metrocentre in Gateshead, said: “Black Friday has a more relaxed feel in the UK, as shoppers visit stores at their leisure before numbers pick up later in the day. If previous years’ patterns are anything to go by, we’re expecting the day to get busier and hit a peak this evening when those finishing work will join the hunt for deals. By the end of the today, we should have seen well above 1 million shoppers through our doors.”
More staff than customers at @curryspcworld Stratford this morning #BlackFriday2017 pic.twitter.com/G3TUAGCJJw
November 24, 2017
#BlackFridayThis made me laugh.I do hope it’s indicative of the UK embracing #BuyNothingDay pic.twitter.com/4AnkD7SaGA
November 24, 2017
While Friday morning was quiet, Boaz said there had been a “huge surge” in online sales on Thursday evening as people tried to beat the rush to snap up the best deals.
Argos said its website had welcomed a record number of shoppers in the first four hours of its Black Friday sale on Thursday evening, while John Lewis admitted its online store had crashed for a short period yesterday as shoppers hunted the web for bargains.
The Argos website registered more than 2m visits between 9pm on Thursday and 1am on Friday. The retailer said it had dealt with 13,000 customers every minute in the peak hour from 9pm, 1,000 more a minute than last year’s peak.
John Lewis admitted that its website had crashed for part of Thursday, as the department store price-matched rivals’ early Black Friday offers.
With household finances tight this year, retailers are hoping that a discount frenzy will persuade shoppers to open their wallets.
British households are facing the biggest squeeze on living standards since records began, according to the Resolution Foundation, amid rising inflation due to the pound’s weakness since the Brexit vote.
Fashion retailers are also hoping Black Friday will help them clear stocks of coats and knitwear after a warm October hit sales.
The high-street clothing retailer Next, which traditionally refuses to offer pre-Christmas discounts, is entering the Black Friday fray for the first time to boost flagging sales amid a blizzard of promotions from rivals, including John Lewis and Debenhams.
On Friday, veteran analyst Tony Shiret said Next was offering 70% off all Black Friday lines, when it usually opened its sales with 50% off. He said the Next sale “highlights likely continuing weak sales performance” and demonstrated that the retailer was struggling to clear stock in its usual end-of-season sales.
Problems for fashion retailers were also highlighted by independent analyst Nick Bubb. He pointed to a 2.7% drop in sales at established stores of the medium-sized chains surveyed by advisory firm BDO, including French Connection and Hobbs, for its regular sales tracker in the week to 19 November.
Including homewares and lifestyle chains, total sales were down by 2.4% last week. However, overall online sales rose 8.2%.
Follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk, or sign up to the daily Business Today email here.