Shopping bags at the ready – Black Friday is almost upon us.
It is the manic day of cut-price deals and one-off sales expected to see UK shoppers spend well in excess of £300 million.
An American invention, first coined by the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1950s, the moniker was given to the day after Thanksgiving due to the chaos that overcame the city as shoppers flocked to pre-Christmas high street sales.
Over here, no-one heard of it until 2010, when the clever marketing gurus at Amazon decided to treat customers to 300 deals in a bid to increase its share of the UK market.
Walmart-owned Asda swiftly jumped on board with a raft of in-store offers.
Now most high street names are planning to chop prices to get in on the action, and experts predict it will be the biggest shopping day ever in the UK, with tens of millions of transactions expected.
This year, Black Friday falls on November 28 – pay day for many workers – and is swiftly followed by its online equivalent Cyber Monday, where rival shoppers can eschew the cramped high streets and snap up reduced items on limited time deals.
They have quickly become days that retailers look forward to as a way to bolster the coffers pre-Christmas. A report by Visa Europe has forecast £360,000 will be spent every minute on its cards on Black Friday as customers clamour to get hold of discounted goods.
Last year, Amazon received four million orders on Black Friday and a further 4.1m on Cyber Monday – and both are expected to be eclipsed this year. The two days have pretty much merged into one, and with many retailers already starting their deals, shoppers can look forward to an action-packed eight days’ worth of bargain hunting madness.
It is also a time of year when tensions can run high as shoppers lose their cool in the quest for value.
The USA has seen shootings, pepper spray incidents and plain old fisticuffs on Black Friday in recent years. There’s even a website set up to document the death toll, which currently stands at seven. Thankfully, reactions are not yet quite as extreme over here.
Despite the excitement seemingly reaching fever pitch nationally, bosses at shopping centres across the Black Country have mixed views when it comes to Black Friday.
Nicholas Pitt, centre director at Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre, described the day as ‘an America gimmick’ yet to take off in the city. “In the last few years there has been a big build up nationally, but the reality is we haven’t seen an increase in trade on Black Friday,” he said.
The attitude could not be more different at the Merry Hill Centre in Dudley. Bosses at the centre’s management firm intu Merry Hill have even created a Black Friday survival guide advising visitors how to stay one step ahead.
Trevor Pereira, commercial and digital director, said the centre is expecting to see an increase on the four million customers it saw over last year’s four-day sales extravaganza. He said: “The date is now mainstream in the UK and these four days are among the busiest shopping times of the year.”
Up to 50 stores at Merry Hill will be offering discounts of up to 80 per cent, while intu’s website will be highlighting reduced items from the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Nike, Hugo Boss, Versace Jeans and Austin Reed.
Many of the UK’s most prominent stores now place as much emphasis on Black Friday as they used to on the January sales.
Argos has promised a huge sale on items across its product range at all 737 of its stores and online, while John Lewis has vowed to match the prices of all its competitors, with prices cut on TVs and laptops. Mark Lewis, John Lewis’ online director, said: “
Black Friday is changing the way our customers plan their Christmas shopping and we expect this year will see it come of age in the retail calendar.”
While there may be a lack of history and tradition in the UK as far as Black Friday is concerned, there is little doubt the trend has caught on.
By Peter Madeley