Before we get accused of cheap anti-Americanism, may we begin by saying that we are big fans of American imports. It goes without saying that we love American wine, and we obviously finished all series of The Sopranos/Mad Men and The Wire before they went mainstream at the water cooler, because we’re just totally cool and zeitgeisty like that.
However, there is one US import that we have watched increasing in popularity in the UK with growing trepidation: Black Friday. This mega discount-fest (held on the Friday after Thanksgiving) has been running in America since before the Second World War, but has only really made its mark on the UK shopping calendar in the last few years. Since then, it has raged out of control to the extent that some industry experts expect internet sales to surpass £1bn on Black Friday this year, making it the biggest shopping day of the year.
Now, we are a retailer. We sell things, and we are as fond of a spot of rampant consumerism as much as the next capitalist. But we can no longer sit back and ignore the fact that the increasing power of Black Friday is having a terrible impact on customers and retailers alike.
To start with, it’s dangerous. In the US, there are countless examples of customers and employees being injured and even dying in pursuit of a so-called bargain. There’s even a website dedicated to detailing its cost on human life and wellbeing: blackfridaydeathcount.com. One woman was arrested outside of a Toys 'R' Us store after pushing in the queue then threatening to shoot other shoppers who complained. Let’s imagine THAT moving scene on Christmas morning: “Mommy got you the VTech Toot Drivers Super RC Raceway you wanted, Chuck, but she had to threaten some other naughty shoppers with a handgun to get it. MER-RY CHRISTMAS!” Admittedly things are not as bad in the UK yet, but the mad scenes of violence across the country last year are a harbinger of disaster if retailers continue with this insane one-upmanship.
The next problem comes with the ‘discounts’ offered. Yes, there are undoubtedly some genuine savings out there, but in such limited supply that they are impossible to find, and lead to the scenes of mayhem and aggro above. But so many retailers just go down the age-old, shonky route of inflating their prices to improve the perceived discount: that electric banana peeler was never £50 and it still isn’t worth the £10 they are trying to charge for it now. At Oddbins, we are always banging on about the subterfuge of high-low discounting and the importance of keeping prices stable and Black Friday has become a monstrous illustration of the art of artificial discounts.
It could be argued that Black Friday is good for economic growth, but that doesn’t add up. In the UK last year, a study showed that Black Friday failed to increase profits or sales over the entire Christmas shopping period. Instead, it has concentrated the eight-week Christmas shopping period into one day, while severely dampening spending before and after. This puts massive pressure on the retail infrastructure with websites crashing, warehouses thrown into disarray and shops filled with panicking hordes. This translates into a much, much poorer shopping experience for customers, unless you really enjoy being put in a headlock by a sweaty lunatic who wants the last electric banana peeler in stock.
So, in the spirit of peace and goodwill to all, we challenge all other UK retailers to join us by refusing to engage with this nonsense: it is a race to the bottom which benefits no-one. So, let’s reject Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Sofa Sunday, Gray Thursday and avoid why-have-I-spent-a-month’s-wages-on-this-useless-crap-Wednesday, or, at least, summon our national pride and agree an amnesty until the traditional British day when retailers are permitted to ruin Christmas by promoting massive sales: Boxing Day.