Brits can’t be bothered with Black Friday

Americans like to spend a whole day giving thanks for stuff and then spend the next day buying loads more if it. Over here, not so much.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the US that seems to be some kind of harvest festival, complete with traditional feast. For some reason they like to spend the next day engaged in a retail frenzy that has become known as Black Friday due, apparently, to the fact that this is the first time retailer’s balance sheets move into positive territory (in the black, as opposed to the red).

Because retailers like nothing more than calendar imperatives to buy stuff, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc, UK ones have been keen to import this compulsion over here. But according to new research from Genesys 80% of UK consumers won’t bother to hit the high streets this Friday, with the majority of them paradoxically saying they’ll stay away because things get too busy.

“This year, the vast majority of British consumers are planning to stay away from stores on Black Friday because it’s not worth the bother,” said Richard McCrossan, digital lead for Genesys. “They prefer shopping online in the comfort of their own home – or whatever location is convenient –  to the chaos of dealing with crowded high-street stores.

“Shopping has become as much about the experience as the purchase – and during the holidays, that means speed is of the essence and convenience is king. Only 5% of respondents said a low standard of customer service is a reason to avoid physical stores, so it’s other aspects that put consumers off.

“With an estimated 14 stores per day closing in the UK, retailers must meet consumers’ expectations for hassle-free experiences at every touchpoint – from making payments to finding answers to questions, to getting personalised, friendly service. It’s not just about the purchase – it’s about making the experience great.”

So it remains possible that we will buy loads of stuff on Friday, but over the internet. US etail giant Amazon tends to go big on Black Friday and the internet arms of UK companies may be tempted to follow suit. In semi-related news it looks like the use of smartphones to make contactless payments is exploding in the UK, with recent research revealing they now account for 7% of all such transactions.

Amazon to open bigger cashier-free shop in Seattle

Etail giant Amazon has confirmed it is to open a second, bigger cashier-free retail outlet in Seattle later this year.

Earlier this year, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar shop to the public, which we read was a dress rehearsal for something bigger to come. The new one to be opened on Seattle’s 5th Avenue will almost double the floor size of the first one, and we believe must have improved on the accuracy of item tracking, possibly other innovations as well.

Amazon has never stopped innovating. It has revolutionised how distribution channels are operated, how sourcing and logistics are managed, and most importantly, how user data is mined and used. It is not only leading in consumer IoT with the cashier-free retail experiment, but also is market leader in cloud computing (AWS), and artificial intelligence, or AI (“Hello, Alexa”)

Once upon a time, in the late 20th century, Amazon’s mantra was “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”. Instead, Jeff Bezos earned himself the title of “the world’s biggest snake-oil salesman” from his fellow book sellers, according to a New Yorker profile. Fast forward 20 years, lying in the trails of Amazon’s ascendency are not only countless independent (and not so independent) bookshops, but also high street retailers, and grocers, among others.

Other retail chains are responding with their own automation solutions. The UK’s Tesco has been testing till-free shopping with its own scan and go app. McDonald’s has rolled out in-store tall touchscreens where customers can order and pay, making the counters more like collection points.

Which inevitably brings us back to the elephant in the room: what are the job prospects of retail cashiers? Simple economics will dictate that when wages rise to a level to make automation more economical, most businesses will choose to switch to machines. Meanwhile, simple psychology and sociology will tell that human beings crave a human touch. Striving for a balance between efficient (and potentially cheaper) self-service and more human (and more humane) job market is not only a question for businesses.