We Brits are suckers for an American trend. Halloween, tooth whitening, childhood obesity – where America treads, the UK is usually not too far behind…forming an orderly queue of course.
Black Friday is yet another US-lead initiative that has wormed its way into our national consciousness. Given its intrinsic link to Thanksgiving, you’d think this would be one Americanism we’d be happy to ignore, but it would appear we are (once again) powerless to resist.
Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. The following day has become designated Black Friday. With a moniker originally coined by the Philadelphia police department in the 1950s, Black Friday was so called because of the chaos that engulfed the city as shoppers, fuelled by surfeits of turkey and cranberry sauce, flocked to the high street sales to commence Christmas shopping.
Over the years, the meaning of Black Friday has changed, with it now being heralded as the first day of the year that retailers start making money, therefore propelling them from the red to the black.
Black Friday had no relevance in the UK until 2010. Until then, the nearest retail phenomenon we had was the good old Boxing Day sales. Multinational retailers were the first to introduce the concept on this side of the Atlantic. Most notable of these was Amazon, who introduced Black Friday discounts four years ago. Last year saw Black Friday reach critical mass in the UK, breaking the previous record for a single day’s online trade.
Initially, the UK’s adaptation of Black Friday was very much a digital event; a key impetus in the retail shift from the bricks and mortar of old to the new, infinitely more convenient digital shopping experience.
Last year, however, things started to change. Wallmart-owned Asda ran a series of flash promotions, with ‘pinch me – I must be dreaming’ discounts that propelled frenzied customers into their stores. The result was akin to the carnage synonymous with America’s Black Friday – people queuing in the early hours and rampaging for bargains. Asda sold a month’s worth of TVs in just 45 minutes and 16k tablets in an hour.
So what does that mean for us this year then? Well, analysts are predicting that 28th November 2014 will be the biggest online shopping day in UK history, EVER. It is also likely to be much more of a bricks and mortar event too. Asda’s success last year made the other supermarkets sit up and take note…and want a bit of that frenetic footfall for themselves.
Am I the only one that feels a bit uneasy about this new shift in retail behaviour though? To me, this feels like a slippery slope. Consumers become conditioned to expect heavy discounting, the level of which is only achievable by the giant monoliths of retail. It is only the supermarkets and multi-national retailers, like Amazon, that have low enough buy prices and broad enough stock ranges to accommodate this loss-leading approach. The independents, once again, are priced out of the market, knowingly undersold, in a supersized world where bigger is always best.
And what about the stalwart of UK retail heritage – the Boxing Day sale? Can it compete with the brasher, younger, all-American rival? Only time will tell, but I’m thinking our British penchant for the under-dog will be quickly discarded in favour of an iPad for fifty quid!