ONLINE FOCUS FOR BLACK FRIDAY BARGAIN-HUNTERS AS BUMPER SALES EXPECTED
Consumers hoping to bag a Black Friday bargain are expected to spend more than ever online on what is likely to be the biggest shopping day of the year
Shoppers are predicted to go on a £1.97 billion spending spree - setting a new record - with more than half spent on the internet.
The chaotic scenes witnessed two years ago where brawls broke out over cut-price televisions were not matched this year on the high street. Instead, just a handful of shoppers waited in line outside many superstores before calmly purchasing cut-price electrical goods.
John Rogers, chief executive of Sainsbury's Argos, said that the catalogue retailer had seen a surge in online sales during the early hours.
"We're expecting a huge tick up in demand today. For example, the first hour of trading on our website which was between 12 and one o'clock today we saw over 500,000 visits to the website, up 50% year-on-year," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"I suspect that we'll see a real peak in trade between seven and 10 o'clock this morning when customers are on their way to work, on their mobiles and they can shop our deals as they travel into work this morning."
Almost all of the high street's biggest names are embracing the US import this year, with some such as Tesco and John Lewis offering extended opening hours.
But at the Tesco Extra store in Ponders End, Enfield, north London, a smattering of bargain hunters formed a line outside and appeared in relaxed spirits as they bought televisions, vacuum cleaners and video games. While in Manchester, just a handful of shoppers queued outside a Tesco Extra store.
Retailers will be hoping that their websites stand up to the volume of traffic after big names such as Argos, Tesco, John Lewis and Boots crashed at peak times last year.
Some 14 million British consumers are expected to participate in the global shopping event, now the biggest shopping day in the UK, and will spend a predicted total of £1.96 billion, according to VoucherCodes.co.uk and the Centre for Retail Research.
Online spending on Black Friday is expected to reach £1 billion, up 16% on last year, while it is anticipated that the majority who opt for the High Street will spend a lower total of around £961 million.
It is expected that consumers will spend £5.8 billion over the four days culminating with the so-called Cyber Monday.
But consumer group Which? has already warned shoppers to "do your research" after finding that half of last year's deals were cheaper in the months before and after Black Friday.
MoneySavingExpert.com warned customers to watch out for "fool's gold" and compare prices carefully between retailers.
Keith Richardson, managing director retail sector at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said he expected Black Friday to be "as big as ever this year" as shoppers have seen "little if any impact" after the EU referendum.
But he said he doubted that customers would be "fighting over TVs again" because retailers and consumers are now "more savvy about Black Friday".
More than half a million people visited the Currys PC World website before 6am on the morning of Black Friday.
The chain has reported its "highest ever" number of orders - with an increase of 40% on last year.
Stuart Ramage, e-commerce director at Dixons Carphone, said: "As we predicted, shoppers are making the most of our stores being open early, but also placing orders by mobile devices with our highest ever mobile traffic share since Black Friday began."
By mid-morning, shoppers on social media were reporting problems as they attempted to purchase goods online.
Would-be splurgers said the websites of high street shops New Look and River Island, and online retailer Missguided, were crashing.
John Lewis said it was taking five orders every second online and the busiest period so far had been between 8am and 8.30am as people shopped on their way into work.
It also saw a spike of sales made through mobile phones between 8am and 9am, with a 21% increase.
Dino Rocos, John Lewis lead director and operations director, said: "Sales on johnlewis.com exceeded expectations overnight as customers logged on to take advantage of our great Black Friday deals.
"We have carefully planned for this year's Black Friday event to ensure orders can be fulfilled without compromising the customer service and seamless delivery we're famous for."