As Britain enters “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving in America that has been designated as a key shopping day for retailers up and down the country, both online and in physical stores, should we be excited by this relatively new phenomenon (circa Amazon in 2010) or should we view it with some scepticism and just another gimmick dreamed up in an attempt to simply boost sales in the run up to Christmas?

Already there is news of the disruption it can cause, although thankfully nothing like on the scale of the riots experienced in America’s equivalent in the past, as there have been arrests reported at some supermarkets due to keen shoppers battling over the best offers and injuries caused by televisions falling on avid bargain hunters. In that respect it is not too dissimilar to the scenes seen at the major stores in January in this country, when stores have traditionally wheeled out their post- Christmas sales. Even that though has been changing over the years, as stores have opted to bring it forward to Boxing Day to boost their trade figures over the Christmas period. Indeed, it could be said that there are always ‘sales’ on somewhere at some time, so what is particularly new about another sale at the end of November?

It does seem slightly peculiar that what is essentially an American concept is now becoming accepted in Britain, although ‘Americanisms’ do seem to creep across the Atlantic, given that we share a common (basically) language and live similar lifestyles. Thanksgiving is not widely celebrated this ‘side of the pond’ though, so it could be questioned why we have chosen to pick the same date as in America and indeed why we give it such a dark sounding name, that conjures up images of stock market crashes in another time. Looking into the derivations of the term “Black Friday” it does make sense of course, as it marks the time when retailers move out of the red and into the black, ie. making a profit. In an age when companies often seem to live or die by the state of their balance sheet at any particular point in time (when viewed by analysts looking at the health or otherwise of a corporation), they are all eager to give it a shot in the arm whenever they can.

How are companies marketing their Black Friday offerings, as they attempt to prise money out of the family coffers in the lead up to an expensive period for many? Computer users are bombarded with emails (depending what distribution lists they are on and how many) telling them about the supposedly cheap products at massive discounts compared to the usual price. Does this have the same impact as “junk mail” that arrives through the postal system though, the statistics suggest otherwise. “Direct Mail News” found that in 2012 the average response rate for direct mail was a healthy 4.4% (including both business-to-business and business to consumer mailings). That compares favourably to the corresponding figure of just 0.12% for electronic mail. Further ammunition to direct mail’s armoury comes from the “Direct Mail Association” Factbook for 2013, which suggests that 65% of consumers (of all ages) have been persuaded to make a purchase after receiving messages via that medium.

Stores will be keen to make the maximum return from those that they tempt into their stores by providing an all round experience, hoping that their captive audience will spend on additional products that they weren’t necessarily looking to buy originally. Product placement at strategic places around the store may also lead to a ‘casual’ purchase, as is always the way in a large supermarket. Shoppers would be best served to stick to the product(s) they arrived at the store looking for. The beleaguered parent may also seek refreshment while at the store of choice, so many retailers now offer on the spot cafes for a quick snack (well, they wouldn’t want people to spend time elsewhere as they may not return to the aisles) that with a decent- sized family could amount to a small fortune.

Commonly the products that seem a great offer may not be in reality, as they may be older stock or a poor seller over recent weeks. For every one percent of genuine ‘bargain’ that headlined in the advert that drew the would be purchaser in to the shop or online site, there are likely to be 99% of ‘duds’ alongside. The hysteria of a sale can make normally sensible people part with their money far too readily. Of course if they stick to their budget, then that may not be a major problem , but does Aunt Ethel really want that four- slice toaster you happen to see at (allegedly) half-price ?

Companies are getting savvy to the changing ways in which their prospective buyers wish to make their purchases by meeting their needs and placing their outlets strategically. Argos have opened a store at Cannon Street Station, hoping to tap into the “rush hour” market on the London Underground, in a location noted for financial institutions with extremely busy punters in abundance. Others are not far behind with John Lewis moving in the same direction.

So the advice would seem to be have a look by all means, but keep your thinking hat on and a firm grip on your wallet, and be prepared for temptations along the way! 
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