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Black Friday set to be a mixed bag with bumper sales but dismal high street turnout

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The discount shopping bonanza Black Friday is on course to be a mixed picture across the UK.

Initial figures from payment providers on Friday afternoon suggested that 2021 was set to be a bumper year for shopping, even as physical shops continued to suffer, pointing to the continuing importance of online purchases.

As of 1pm on Friday, the UK had seen a 23.3% increase in the volume of payments compared to Black Friday in 2020, and a 4.2% increase in the volume of payments compared to the same period in 2019, according to data from Barclaycard Payments.

“It’s clear that there is still an appetite for the savings that are to be had, and consumers are making the most of shops being open to pick up a festive bargain,” said Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payment.

“Retailers will also be pleased to see their sales volumes have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and have surpassed those seen in 2019. So far the data looks extremely promising and we should be set for one of the most successful Black Friday shopping sprees on record.”

Fellow lender Nationwide said its customers had made 1.3m purchases by 9am, 24% up on last year, while noting that typically, the busiest times for shopping were at lunchtime and in the evening, after work.

But despite payment volumes surpassing pre-pandemic levels, footfall at the UK’s largest shopping destinations this year remained depressed when compared with 2019.

As of 12pm on Friday, visitors to the UK’s high streets were down by 27.8%, while footfall in Central London had fallen by 28%. Most shopping centres had seen reductions in visitors of around 30%, according to data provided by Springboard, the analytics company.

“A state of panic around the new COVID variant is terrible news for retailers hoping people would go into their physical stores to snap up Black Friday deals,” said Russ Mould, investment director at stockbroker AJ Bell.

“There is a good chance that the alarming news will make people stay at home to avoid crowds and any possible transmission of the disease.

“While that might shift some of the shopping to the online channel, it would be disastrous for pubs and restaurants hoping for a good weekend’s trading before we move into December.”

Retailers have warned this year that sales might be impacted by supply chain disruptions.

Hardware retailer AO.com cautioned in advance that a limited supplies of microchips might hinder the flow of products, particularly on electronic goods.

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