Don't wanna be American idiots

We've adopted the US "tradition" with gusto, but is it actually just a bit of a con?

22nd November 2018

Chances are, as early as last week, your inbox started to fill up with emails baring subject lines like, “Must-have Black Friday mega-deals,” “Unmissable offers this Black Friday,” or, “Buy our crap you mindless drone.” Clearly, the most important shopping day of the year is almost upon us, and I for one can barely contain my excitement.

Every religion has its big holidays and festivals. For the Christians, it’s Christmas and Easter, Islam has Eid and Ramadan, and in Judaism, they’ve got Shabbat, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. For those who follow the capitalist West’s most dominant religion though, Consumerism, there really is just one big day in the calendar: Black Friday (though Christmas is pretty well-favoured by devout consumerists, too).

Black Friday is the day of the year when everyone is a winner. Retailers make a killing, shoppers get great deals and, as civilised and courteous Brits — self-proclaimed masters of the queue — we get to look at our less sophisticated cousins across the Atlantic and snort with derision as they smash each other’s faces in over discounted flatscreens.

The idea behind Black Friday, and the reason we’re all so bloody excited about it, is that on this one day of the year, companies cast aside the normal rules of retail, economics and good sense, and slash the absolute shit out of their prices, to levels that you will just never, ever see again as long as you live (or, until next Black Friday, at the very least).

Black Friday could well have an effect on productivity in the UK, with 52% of us admitting we’ll use work hours to browse for deals

In Britain, we’ve only caught the Black Friday bug in the last few years — a US-import which, like high school proms and Halloween, we’re embracing enthusiastically, but not with quite the same frenzy and fervour as its originator. It’s not really clear why we have Black Friday here in Britain, or at least why it falls on the same Friday as in the US. There, Black Friday takes place on a national holiday and follows directly on from Thanksgiving, giving shoppers an opportunity to shake off their Turkey-induced comas by scrambling over each other for supposedly unmissable deals.

Whereas Black Friday in the UK isn’t held on a significant date, and the majority of us are at work. It’s still popular though. Research from Virgin Mobile has found that more than half of Brits will partake and the average Black Friday shopper will spend £206. And about that whole “work” thing, Virgin’s research also found Black Friday could have a negative effect on productivity in the UK, with 52% of us admitting we’ll use work hours to browse for deals, and a further one in 10 of us saying we’ll pull a sickie, work from home or top up late to make the most of this holy day of deals.

But the next question is, are the deals really all that good? Do retailers actually offer up their best products for prices so low you should genuinely be willing to shin-kick an elderly lady to bag them?

Er… probably not. Research by consumer watchdog Which? has shown that among some of the major retailers, almost nine out of 10 Black Friday deals are available for the same price or cheaper on at least one other day of the year, and almost half are available for a lower price within the following six months.

But if that’s the case then why do we go so mad for Black Friday?

Because we’re idiots, that’s why. Or, to be slightly fairer, we’re busy and we’re opportunistic and, ultimately, we’re trusting. Retailers present Black Friday as this day of beyond-bargain deals on which you’d be mad to miss out, and they say “20% off” or “£75 less than RRP” and we, like the naive sacks of flesh and emotion that we are, believe them, apparently forgetting that these people are out to make money off us.

Companies use the consumer’s knee-jerk urge to buy something, anything, on Black Friday

Patricia Davidson, an online shopping expert, says Black Friday is sometimes a scam.

“Companies use the consumer’s knee-jerk urge to buy something, anything, on Black Friday just because that’s supposed to be the best day for deals. Many times people don’t bother to compare prices because they think that on Black Friday, by default, they will get the best price.”

But sometimes, if you don’t just mindlessly buy up whatever tripe is presented to you with a big shiny bow on it, you can actually beat Black Friday, get some cool shit and save some money in the process. Remember, if 87% of Black Friday deals are available cheaper at least one other day of the year, that means 13% of products are actually at their cheapest. Now, if something you genuinely need and/or want happens to fall in that 13%, then go nuts, Davidson suggests.

Have a price in mind, then go for it

“The best way to shop on Black Friday is to work out what you want to buy, do some research, and then look at the deals on offer. Have a price in mind, then go for it. There will be some very good prices around.”

Lou Ellerton is another expert on all things shopping; specifically retail, marketing and consumer behaviour. Like Davidson, she recognises that Black Friday isn’t quite all it’s professed to be, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives too.

“There’s a lot of bargain basement stock bought in by stores beforehand, to be flogged at supposedly knockdown prices — but equally, more and more brands are starting to offer a straight discount on everything in their ranges. In most cases, that’s only 10-20%, but it still offers a significant saving for those who had their eye on something specific beforehand.”

The British have always loved getting a bargain, and Black Friday taps into that sense of savvy shopping

And to what does Ellerton attribute our fast-growing love for Black Friday?

“Black Friday’s popularity points to two big changes in our lives. The first is austerity and the financial uncertainty, meaning that it’s more important than ever for consumers to get the most value for their pounds — and with Brexit looming, that’s going to be big on both shoppers’ and businesses’ agenda this year.

“The second factor is almost regardless of individual budgets, and that’s our pride in being ever savvier in our purchases, aided by the internet, comparison shopping and a much higher literacy in the ‘language’ of marketing and advertising. The British have always loved getting a bargain, and Black Friday taps into that sense of savvy shopping.”

So shopi if you must, but shop savvily. And don’t actually shin-kick any elderly women, or anyone for that matter. Unless, of course, you happen to run into Piers Morgan.

22nd November 2018