By Samuel Dean, CEO and founder, Pricesearcher.
Black Friday is almost upon us again, and it's that time of year when consumers expect to bag a bargain ahead of the busy Christmas shopping period.
But as momentum builds towards the big sales event, there have been several indicators in recent months that the price of products in general is increasingly influencing shopper behaviour – and it's generating some unusual sales results for retailers.
IMRG and Capgemini said recently that the UK electricals sector experienced its first September year-on-year sales decline since the online retail trade association started tracking figures in 2003, suggesting that people are holding back their spending until Black Friday.
This may well be the case – and the proof will come in end-of-November spending figures – but the key point to understand is that consumers are now price conscious all year round, and they are increasingly looking for access to accurate and comprehensive price information when shopping.
Prices are already starting to increase in many shops due to rising inflation, and those close to the research at IMRG and Capgemini noted there is a growing discerning attitude to price comparison in the UK.
Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement design at Capgemini, said: "When you look at how much faster online is growing than multichannel it implies that people are currently more price sensitive, comparing deals rather than buying directly through retail [stores]."
Justin Opie, managing director of IMRG, added that pure-play retailers are enjoying far higher web conversion and sales growth than retailers with a physical and digital presence, but noted that the average spend on multichannel retail sites is much higher.
He commented: "It's possible that the online-only retailers are benefiting from the lingering perception that the best deals are available online, so as pressure on their available spend increases, shoppers look to the 'pure' online brands over the high street alternatives."
This represents really interesting behaviour and shows just how astute the UK shopper has become in understanding price levels and where to go to find the best deals.
But are consumers getting the best deal?
With Black Friday on the horizon and the special offers it purports to deliver consumers, wider analysis of pricing practices in UK retail will naturally follow.
In fact, a recent survey of 2,000 consumers by Pricesearcher found that 77% of Brits use online price comparison websites (PCW) as part of their shopping research, highlighting just how eager people are to find the best deal – whatever time of year it is.
But there appears to be a gap in consumer awareness about how PCWs operate. Some 39% of online shoppers are unaware that most of these sites don't show all the options available in the market due to the costs involved for retailers to list all their products.
The PCW business model is to charge retailers for listings, and I feel consumers need to know that they aren't necessarily getting the best deal available by using these sites. Actually, what they are getting are the best available deals from the companies that have paid to be listed.
All indications are that consumers are increasingly heading online to find what they perceive to be the best deals for the products they want to buy, and this process will only ramp up further as the Black Friday frenzy starts in earnest in the coming weeks.
My mission is to provide consumers with a complete view of available products, index every single price, and make that information searchable for consumers. That's got to be the fairest option for shoppers and retailers alike during the Black Friday period and throughout the year.