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Lockdown hits UK high street ‘Black Friday’ hopes

UK bricks and mortar retail outlets are expected to suffer an almost 60% fall in custom on ‘Black Friday’ on what should be one of the busiest shopping days in the year.

Traditionally the start of the Christmas shopping season, ‘Black Friday’ falls the day after US Thanksgiving on 27 November. But with England in lockdown until 2 December, non-essential shops including most high street and retail parks are set to miss out on the extra business created by both ‘Black Friday’ and its counterpart ‘Cyber Monday’.

Figures from Springboard, the retail data intelligence provider, forecast a 59% drop in UK customer footfall across all UK retail destinations on ‘Black Friday’, compared with 2019. England is unsurprisingly expected to be hardest hit with a fall of 61.7% on 27 November.

High streets are expected to be the hardest hit retail destination in the UK, with a fall of 68.3%, although Springboard suggests there may be some bright spots at larger city centre stores, where retail has adapted to the lockdown situation and enhanced the ‘click and collect’ services.

While shopping centres and retail parks will see some drop off in customer footfall, these areas are likely to gain more traction because of the greater concentration of stores, better parking facilities and the presence of large food outlets that remain open during lockdown.

Merck and Novartis build out coronavirus treatments

Pharmaceutical companies Merck and Novartis are continuing to seal deals to expand their range of coronavirus-related treatments, as potential vaccine optimism was further boosted by news the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine is between 70-90% effective.

On Tuesday (24 Nov) Merck announced it will acquire OncoImmune, a company that has developed a therapeutic drug CD24F that can help ease symptoms and reduce deaths in patients with severe or critical cases of coronavirus. The deal is expected to cost $425m, plus extra payments for regulatory milestones and sales, and follows Merck’s acquisition of drugmaker Themis and a partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP.

Meanwhile, Swiss firm Novartis said on Friday (20 Nov) it had signed a $50m deal with Australia-based Mesoblast to develop, commercialise and manufacture its Remestemcel-L therapy. It is currently used with patients suffering from respiratory distress, but is also being tested as a coronavirus treatment.

AO warns of potential Brexit disruption

Online electrical retailer AO World has warned of potential Brexit disruption to supply chains, noting it had increased its warehouse capacity to minimise issues for customers.

The group, which operates in the UK and Germany, has been one of the beneficiaries of coronavirus lockdowns, with the working from home trend driving demand for essential electrical items such as home office items and appliances.

It recorded a 53.2% increase in total revenue to £717m for the six months to 30 September 2020, with UK revenue increasing 53.9% to 616.4m, compared with the previous year.

However, while AO said it had confidence in a permanent shift in demand for online shopping, there remained headwinds including potential supply chain disruption caused by Brexit from January 2021.

Chief executive John Roberts told Reuters: “We’ve about doubled our warehousing capacity and we’ve placed orders to hopefully fill that capacity, to insulate customers from that [supply chain] disruption. But we can’t give any guarantees on that.”