Black Friday is getting bigger in UK – but where did it start and how did it make it over here?
As a general rule, I think people in the UK are a bit more reserved and less boisterous than Americans. Perhaps that’s why Black Friday feels a bit like an event that’s been parachuted into the country,
But let’s look at how this shopping frenzy got started in the US.
Apparently, in the 1950s the city of Philadelphia used to fill up with shoppers and visitors after Thanksgiving, 26 November. They were visiting to go shopping and attend a game of American football between teams from the US army and navy.
(Of course the shops were also full of Father Christmases, ready to greet the eager children of weary shoppers.)
With all these people coming into the city, Philly’s shops saw a huge increase in sales. But the cops were also inundated, having to take on extra shifts and deal with a jump in shoplifters. This morass of people, profit and police became known as Black Friday.
Eventually the press picked up on what was happening. Perhaps believing that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, retailers realised they could use the term to advertise deals and offers and associate it with busy and profitable shops.
Well, that’s one origin story. One tale has the term associated with workers taking four days off after Thanksgiving in the 1950s, calling in sick (in lieu of actually having time off). Or there’s yet another rumour about it being the day when retailers finally go into the black, after being in the red all through the year.
Eventually retailers in the UK started using the event, I think as a way to differentiate themselves from other UK brands and to lure shoppers in with big discounts. They say the first Black Friday event here was run by Currys in 2003. I think it really started getting big, though, when firms like Amazon started promoting it.
But there’s been a tilt away from Black Friday recently, most noticeably Asda – which is owned by American giant Wal-Mart – decided to cancel its sale in 2015, saying shoppers were ‘fatigued’ by the event. There’s chaos associated with it too, with retailers calling police to some locations last year. This year they even issued warnings to shops to be on guard for trouble.
Along with high street retailers, online shops leapt into to fray with their version called Cyber Monday. (A good thing too; according to Barclaycard, online shopping accounted for 21% of all sales in 2014. And shoppers spent 18% more that year than they did the previous year. )
Of course, Black Friday shopping online is less stressful than having to queue up (or fight your way) to a discount, but you also have to set your diary around the deals you want – they might only come up at a specific time – or even stay at your computer refreshing offers by the second. If you’re lucky enough to get what you want in the basket, you’ll have to cross your fingers and hope that the website doesn’t crash and the item you want is actually in stock.
I think the best way to think about Black Friday is that it’s nice to have. It’s a chance to see what shops are offering, but to plan our gift list around it, to count on getting that single-deal, might end up being more stressful than helpful.
Saying that, I’m going to stay up until 1:30AM today, because that sock and spatula set I fancy is going on sale.
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Previously on The Euroffice Blog…