Wednesday 27 November 2013

Black Friday – The official start to Christmas shopping

Black Friday looms and many retailers are bracing for the impact. Not as known in the UK, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving that has become synonymous with huge sales, crazy shoppers and sometimes even violence in the United States. What started out as an interesting way to bring customers into the stores on a day when most of America was on holiday has turned into a ‘not to be out done’ campaign amid all the major retails stores.

When I was a child in the States, I remember the Thanksgiving weekend being the start of the holiday season. We would have a filled Thursday of family, food, hanging Christmas lights and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That evening, we would pull out the circulars from the paper and find out where the good deals would be and who would be offering the best ‘Door Buster’ gifts.

On the Friday, we would all get up well before the sun and head to the huge shopping mall about thirty minutes away. Sometimes we got there before the doors opened but most years, we timed it just right and there were no queues to get in but still lots of sales and special offers. One store we went to gave away mini Christmas snowglobes to everyone who came through the door (which I still have sitting with the Christmas decorations) along with a discount voucher. You didn’t know what the discount was until you used it. One time we got one worth $50 off our purchase but most were for 25% off all your purchases in the store.

It was always a fun day full of shopping, eating mall food, rotating between parents to make sure we got something for the other one, and generally having a good time with family. It was amusing to find out what bargains my aunts and uncles had nabbed and nice to know that most of our Christmas shopping was sorted in one day.

Now, however, I would not dream of taking my family shopping on Black Friday. Some stores open at midnight Friday morning with people practically camped out at the doors. Recent research found that one in three Americans will go shopping on Black Friday so you can image the mass of people waiting to get into most stores when they open. And even if you decide not to brave the opening (which means you might miss a huge deal), the amount of people in the stores throughout the day will actually make the shopping experience unpleasant. There are even some retailers that have decided to open on Thanksgiving evening as they try to out-do their competitors.

As Brits don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, the idea of a random Friday at the end of November to call a major shopping day seems a little random. That hasn’t stopped Amazon from taking the lead and offering a UK version of Black Friday. In fact, they have turned this whole week into Black Friday Deals Week. Every hour, they offer discounts on hundreds of items across their site. The deals usually last for an hour and are limited to a number of deals claimed.

And as Amazon goes, so do most retailers. They understand that to keep sales, their deals have to be better than Amazon or customers will simply go online to make their purchases. Most UK retailers won’t have a specific sale for Black Friday but they will be aware of the market and adjust their sales and special offers accordingly. Cath Kidson is offering 15% off all regular priced items starting Friday (Thursday evening online), valid only this weekend while others like John Lewis are offering price matches and discounts across their lines. I am sure they are not the only ones with something special on this weekend.

It seems every year more retailers are picking up on the shopping trend of Black Friday in the UK. Which could be why Christmas adverts are airing earlier and sales projections are focused on November as much as December. I don’t think there will ever truly be a Black Friday in the UK but the impact of special offers and discounts six to eight weeks before Christmas is something marketers will have to keep in mind when planning their fourth quarter marketing in coming years.

Has anyone else had a Black Friday experience? We'd love to hear yours.

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