Shopping should be a pleasurable activity, serenely wandering around city centres, treating ourselves to what we can afford and gawping at everything we can’t; it is a pastime as old as Oxford Street itself. Then, along came Black Friday, and everything went a bit Pete Tong!
Like super-sized drinks, the presence of coffee shop chains on every street corner and Trick or Treat, Black Friday is a commerce phenomenon which has made its way across the Atlantic and onto British shores. Many retailers wish it hadn’t!
Remember Black Friday 2014? Shocking scenes of zombie-like bargain hunters bursting through shop entrances and trampling over each other in the rush to grab cut-priced LCD TVs. Fights breaking out in supermarkets and managers having to close the doors due to the sheer weight of people trying to get in! It was a crazy day!
But what is Black Friday and where is it headed?
The Origins of Black Friday
Dating back to the 1960s, Black Friday was initially used to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season in the USA. Timed conveniently before December, it is always the first Friday after Thanksgiving. Why ‘black’, you ask? Well, it’s essentially a nod to old school accountancy where red numbers were used to demonstrate a loss and black indicated profit. As a retailer, the idea of a single day where profits could be boosted quicker than any other was a tantalising prospect.
How did it become so popular?
Black Friday is perhaps one of the earliest examples of viral marketing. Early-adopting retailers discovered that they could draw large crowds by discounting key lines for one day only. News of the phenomena soon spread and fellow retailers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, as did their customers. Word got around quickly that Black Friday was the sale to wait for.
In the UK, we had to wait a little longer. Black Friday first made its appearance in 2003 when electronics giant Currys latched onto the American super sales day. Its popularity on these shores has increased steadily since then, reaching something of a crescendo last year.
What’s next for Black Friday?
So, we know the biggest sale day of the year means mega savings, zombie stampedes and checkout fights, but like so many hyperbolic events, it feels very bubble-like. When will it burst?
Many retailers believe that November trade has been significantly harmed by Black Friday with punters holding out for the inevitable sales bonanza later that month. Sales are all well and good, but they have a place. Black Friday has grown to a point where it only really suits large retailers who can afford to slash the prices of old stock lines (and, let’s be honest, those LCD TVs people were punching each other for were likely one or two generations behind…). Small retailers don’t have that luxury, as stock on hand is nearly always current, but the pressure created by Black Friday can force them to unnecessarily cut prices and reduce margins to breaking point. It all seems rather counterintuitive from a commerce perspective.
Mark Ellis, November 2015