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The Ultimate UK Guide to Black Friday & Cyber Monday Shopping

The Ultimate UK Guide to Black Friday & Cyber Monday Shopping

Authored by Phil Meekin

Phil Meekin

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Approximate read time: 14 minutes

A shopping day isn’t a shopping day without its own name, brand and cult following, is it? Everyone loves a sale, but super-sales days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have taken the bargain hunting game to a whole new level.

The two busiest shopping days of the year are upon us, with Black Friday taking place on 25th November and Cyber Monday on 28th November. Cue excitement and a flurry of bargain hunters across the UK nervously planning their tactics. Both days require military precision; should one venture out to brick-and-mortar stores or remain behind the safety of the computer? Which retailers to focus on? And then, the all-important task of scouring the internet for rumoured bargains and frantically list making.

It’s stressful stuff, sales shopping.

Whether a seasoned veteran, or a super-sales virgin, we proudly present the ultimate UK guide to Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. Here is the collated history of both days; their adoption in the UK, where to shop, how to shop and a look back at highlights (and, yes, fights) from last year’s events.

So, sit back, grab your notepad (a cup of coffee might be handy, too) and get ready to become a sales supremo!

The History Of Black Friday

Let’s be honest, like super-sized drinks, coffee shops on every street corner and certain linguistic inflections, us Brits have ‘borrowed’ Black Friday from our friends across the Atlantic. It is not a UK phenomena.

Dating back to the 1960s, the term ‘Black Friday’ marked the start of Christmas shopping season in the States. The word ‘black’ is an accounting phrase from days when company accounts were handwritten; red numbers demonstrated a loss, whilst black indicated profit. Put simply, retailers could look forward to a profit-boosting festive period if they saved their best sales.

Black Friday is conveniently timed before Christmas, always the Friday after Thanksgiving, falling anywhere between 23rd and 29th November.

But why did Black Friday become so popular?

In reality, it is a brilliant example of simple, old-fashioned viral marketing. Retailers quickly cottoned onto the fact that they could draw huge crowds by discounting prices on key lines. The more retailers that participated, the quicker word got around that Black Friday was the sale to wait for. And boy did it work.

It’s a very hard day’s graft for the staff working at Black Friday-participating stores; long hours are the order of the day with some shops opening as early as 4am. Some enterprising business owners have made the most of the inevitable rush of zombie-like shoppers by offering small quantities of drastically-reduced items when doors open (sometimes at the expense of profit), to get people in and filling their basket with other goods.

Modern day Black Friday now spans both brick-and-mortar stores and cyberspace, with most online retailers offering pre-Black Friday specials. If you’re quick, you may not have to wait until the day itself to grab that 55” LCD TV you’ve had your eyes on.

Unfortunately, Black Friday was also used to refer to stock market crashes in the 1800’s. But let’s forget about that, as it’s time for some awesome Black Friday facts! 

5 Black Friday key facts:

  1. Black Friday only became a national term in the US in 1995 (it was previously confined to Philadelphia).
  2. Nearly three quarters of Brits have heard of Black Friday (newsshopper.co.uk).
  3. Black Friday’s importance may be slipping in the US; Wal-Mart broke with tradition in 2011 opening its store on Thanksgiving evening and several retailers have since followed suit.
  4. 22% of UK consumers have bought something during Black Friday sales (newsshopper.co.uk).
  5. Black Friday became the largest shopping day of the year in the US in 2001.

The History of Cyber Monday


Respected American businesswoman Ellen Davis coined the phrase ‘Cyber Monday’ when the online-only sales event made its debut on 28th November 2005. Like its Black Friday big brother, Cyber Monday started as a US phenomenon, taking place on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Enjoying a quick rise to fame largely because of its ability to demonstrate seismic sales growth in a single day. This is likely attributed to the ease of purchasing goods on the web, with online shoppers contributing to a Cyber Monday sales record of $2.68 billion in 2014. The ability for people to share their shopping experiences via social media has further added to the viral nature of Cyber Monday.

Deals offered on Cyber Monday are strictly online only, marking the start of festive shopping season for many online retailers. It’s placement in the calendar is a clever ploy banking on the fact that people will have started sales shopping on Black Friday. Therefore, tempted to continue emptying their wallet until close of play the following Monday is high.

Strong media coverage also enabled Cyber Monday to become a household name ensuring consumers clamour at the digital gates of online retailers come the big day, eager to see what the fuss about.

It may surprise you to hear that Cyber Monday actually has political underpinnings. Unlike Black Friday, which was the result of enterprising retailers aiming to boost takings and stimulate the economy, its digital sibling was the brainchild of right-leaning lobbying group, the National Retail Federation (NRF). The group – which supported the repeal of the affordable healthcare act – used it’s Shop.org branch (which supports online retailers) to publicly claim Cyber Monday was “quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.”

Anyway, enough of the politics. Time for some Cyber Monday facts!

Cyber Monday key facts:

  1. The press release from shop.org which effectively launched Cyber Monday in 2005 suggested that 77% of online retailers saw a significant increase in orders on the Monday following the Thanksgiving weekend.
  2. ‘Green Monday’ is another Monday sales event, an invention of eBay and takes place in early December.
  3. Experts estimate that Cyber Monday sales have increased by $100m every year since 2005 (ibtimes.co.uk).
  4. Cyber Monday is cited as the reason for a number of sackings in UK companies as employees turn to their work computers to make the most of the sales.
  5. Quite often, the deals offered on Cyber Monday are identical to those offered on Black Friday, but have the benefit of saving consumers the job of travelling to stores.

Black Friday & Cyber Monday in the UK

Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday began life in the United States. The first Black Friday in the UK was in 2003, when electronics giant Currys used its Staples Corner branch in London to sell laptops and other traditionally high value goods for as little as £50. As you’d expect, word quickly got around.

Online retail giant Amazon has the credit for bringing Black Friday into the UK national consciousness in 2010. Four years later, they smashed their Black Friday tally by hitting 5.5m orders.

It is a little harder to trace the UK origins of Cyber Monday, due to the nature of the online-only sales day, but 2009 is the date to which most people refer.

The digital-only sales day is well received on these shores, eclipsed by Black Friday last year due to an incredible £810m of online sales, blurring the line between both events. Much like the States, British retailers are now banking on shoppers simply carrying their sales addiction across the entire weekend.

A huge number of UK retailers have jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon, including Littlewoods, AO Retail, Cotswold Outdoor, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. In 2013, the latter paid homage to the day’s origins by labelling their event ‘Wal-Mart’s Black Friday by Asda’. The reception for Black Friday in the UK hasn’t been solely positive. Some critics have described it as an “Americanism which doesn’t translate very well.” It has also courted controversy with news reports depicting ugly scenes during the opening of stores; over-eager bargain hunters trampling over each other and breaking out into fights whilst trying to grab cut-price TV sets. Police have even been called in to disperse crowds and traffic chaos has been linked to the sales event.

Such controversies haven’t stopped the irrepressible stampede of contributing retailers, though. 2014 saw more high profile UK retailers launch their own Black Friday deals, including Argos and John Lewis.

Black Friday is clearly here to stay in the UK, but it’ll need to avoid making the headlines for the wrong reasons if it is to remain on good terms with the government. Similarly, and given the relatively free boundaries on offer, Cyber Monday is likely to continue to be a key shopping event in most Brit’s calendars.

Where to Shop

The list of UK retailers participating in Black Friday and Cyber Monday is growing considerably each year. And, with retailers hoping to improve on the quieter 2015, 2016’s event is predicted to be the country’s biggest online shopping day, we’re likely to see a whole lot more join in on the fun.

Here’s our ultimate list of the top Black Friday and Cyber Monday retailers:



Coined ‘the everything store’, Amazon is an online colossus. They are starting early this year with two whole weeks of Black Friday deals. Given their humungous stock list, you may even be able to do all of your sales shopping in one go!
 New Look


The fashion retailer has been known to offer 50% off lines both online and in-store.
Expect bikes, sat navs and other big-ticket car tech to be available at cut prices come Black Friday.
 Marks & Spencer


They make lovely TV ads. They’re also pretty handy when it comes to big sales days. One of the nation’s oldest retailers’ offers last year spanned Black Friday and Cyber Monday.


The supermarket giant will be hoping to make 2016’s Black Friday event bigger than ever with huge discounts on many products spanning many of its in store departments. Every little helps, obviously.


2014 marked the chain’s first entry into the world of Black Friday. Expect a head-to-head clash with rival Tescos this year on most deals.


With over 200 brick-and-mortar stores taking part, the electronic specialist showed off some impressive deals last year. Expect similar goodies this year.
 British Airways


The UK’s beloved airline made full use of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2014 with significant discounts offered for couples booking flights costing £1000 or more to destinations including New York, Cyprus and Cape Town
 Ann Summers


The luxury lingerie brand started early in 2014 and didn’t pull out until it was all over. Ahem. They’ll likely do the same again this year, like the last two years.


If there’s one Black Friday genre shoppers have the pick of, it’s videogames. Game whips up a frenzy in the days leading up to the event with hourly updates on deals planned.


Ok, so this one might represent some of the more mundane Black Friday purchases, but why not make the most and save on those essentials?


MacBooks and iPads have been given the Black Friday and Cyber Monday treatment in the past and, although they’re one of the most secretive companies on the planet, we should probably expect more of the same in 2016.


Have you been putting off that new lawnmower purchase? The DIY giant will likely offer some great in-store only deals this year.


They started early on Thursday in previous years, and will likely do the same in 2016. The ultra-popular female fashion chain is already a dab hand at sales so they really know what they’re doing come Black Friday.


Even the posh shops get involved on Black Friday. It was online purchases only last year, but still worth a browse.
 Currys/PC World


The merged chain of electronic stores is definitely one to watch this Black Friday. Keep an eye on their website – they’ll announce deals early, enabling you to put that shopping list together in preparation for the big day.
 John Lewis


They have already un-leashed 2016’s tearjerker of a Christmas advert and now, the retail giant will flex its muscles during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Expect significant discounts both in-store and online.


They were a little light on detail leading up to last year’s sales, but one of the nation’s most popular brick-and-mortar stores will likely offer sizable discounts both in-store and online.



How to Shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become considered as the days to do your Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, there are a number of pitfalls to be aware of. There are some stunning deals but, equally, a number of duds. Here’s how to make the most of your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping experiences.

  1. Remember the 5 Ps – ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance’. It’s a term the armed forces use, and you’d do well to heed it while preparing to shop for bargains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you have specific goods in mind, make a checklist. Cross reference reviews to make sure the item you’re after really will be worth the impending cut price. If it is, mark next to it the retailers at which you’re likely to find it come the big day.
  2. Research the deals – Many retailers will advertise (or, at the very, least hint at) their forthcoming Black Friday deals. And, because you’ve done your due diligence with your shopping list, you’ll be able to sniff out the best of the deals before the rush for remaining stock ensues.
  3. Compare prices – It’s tempting on days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to grab the first bargain you find, but comparing prices is just as important on these days as any other regular shopping day. Be careful, too – some retailers offer stripped-down or marginally lower quality versions of certain products. Try not to get caught out.
  4. Use store cards – This isn’t an invitation to run up large bills on store credit, but some retailers will offer greater savings if you buy with their store card. Just make sure you pay it off before the interest hits!
  5. Be prepared to rise early – If you really want to be in with a chance to grab the very best deals, you’ll want to set an extra-early alarm. With some shops opening at 4am and many offering ‘night owl’ specials, it pays to be the early bird.
  6. Check return policies – Super-sale days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have understandably made retailers a little more cautious when it comes to return and exchange policies. Due to the savings on offer, many reduce the amount of time consumers have to return unwanted products. Make sure you’re clear on what you’re signing up to.
  7. Stay calm – No deal is worth getting hurt over. If you’re visiting a store on Black Friday, remember that the usual laws apply; no fighting, pushing or swearing at store employees. Take your time and, if you miss that last cut-priced PS4, try somewhere else.

2014 Black Friday controversies vs the quietening down in 2015

Black Friday is never short of a controversy or five.

As the deals have got more aggressive, it seems so have those seeking them out. After a number of incidents at Tesco branch, Greater Manchester Police’s Deputy Chief Constable claimed bargain hunters involved behaved in an “appalling” fashion. The Chief Constable, Sir Peter Fahy, also weighed in, telling the press that the chaos was “totally predictable” and expressed his disappointment at stores’ lack of appropriate security resources.

In 2014, fights broke out at many stores. North of the border, one Scottish supermarket shut its doors due to the sheer weight of people trying to get in.

In fact, there were so many incidents, one aspiring film producer stitched them together in a YouTube compilation. At times, the scenes are absolutely baffling:

One retailer in Wembley, London, filmed the moment their doors first opened on Black Friday. The result really is something you’d expect to see on The Walking Dead: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30243092

As a result, 2015 saw some retailers pulling out of Black Friday altogether with Asda, one of the biggest supermarket brands in the UK pulling out in 2015 and expected not to take part again this year. Although many sales were made last year, it was a much quieter and a lot less controversial affair. Black Friday is here to stay in the UK but appetite for it may be waning slightly.


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