As Britain enters “Black Friday”, the day afterThanksgiving in America that has been designated as a key shopping day forretailers up and down the country, both online and in physical stores, shouldwe be excited by this relatively new phenomenon (circa Amazon in 2010) orshould we view it with some scepticism and just another gimmick dreamed up inan 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 inAmerica’s equivalent in the past, as there have been arrests reported at some supermarketsdue to keen shoppers battling over the best offers and injuries caused bytelevisions falling on avid bargain hunters.

In that respect it is not toodissimilar to the scenes seen at the major stores in January in this country, whenstores have traditionally wheeled out their post- Christmas sales. Even thatthough has been changing over the years, as stores have opted to bring it forwardto Boxing Day to boost their tradefigures over the Christmas period. Indeed, it could be said that there arealways ‘sales’ on somewhere at some time, so what is particularly new aboutanother sale at the end of November?

It does seem slightly peculiar that what is essentiallyan 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 celebratedthis ‘side of the pond’ though, so it could be questioned why we have chosen topick the same date as in America and indeed why we give it such a dark soundingname, that conjures up images of stock market crashes in another time. Lookinginto 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 thestate of their balance sheet at any particular point in time (when viewed byanalysts looking at the health or otherwise of a corporation), they are alleager 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 anexpensive period for many?

Computer users are bombarded with emails (dependingwhat distribution lists they are on and how many) telling them about thesupposedly cheap products at massive discounts compared to the usual price.Does this have the same impact as “junk mail” that arrives through the postalsystem though, the statistics suggest otherwise. “Direct Mail News” found thatin 2012 the average response rate for direct mail was a healthy 4.4% (includingboth business-to-business and business to consumer mailings). That comparesfavourably to the corresponding figure of just 0.12% for electronic mail. Furtherammunition to direct mail’s armoury comes from the “Direct Mail Association”Factbook for 2013, which suggests that 65% of consumers (of all ages) have beenpersuaded to make a purchase after receiving messages via that medium.

Stores will be keen to make the maximum return from thosethat they tempt into their stores by providing an all round experience, hopingthat their captive audience will spend on additional products that they weren’tnecessarily looking to buy originally. Product placement at strategic placesaround the store may also lead to a ‘casual’ purchase, as is always the way ina 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 seekrefreshment while at the store of choice, so many retailers now offer on thespot cafes for a quick snack (well, they wouldn’t want people to spend time elsewhereas they may not return to the aisles) that with a decent- sized family couldamount to a small fortune.

Commonly the products that seem a great offer may not bein reality, as they may be older stock or a poor seller over recent weeks. Forevery one percent of genuine ‘bargain’ that headlined in the advert that drewthe would be purchaser in to the shop or online site, there are likely to be99% of ‘duds’ alongside. The hysteria of a sale can make normally sensiblepeople part with their money far too readily. Of course if they stick to theirbudget, then that may not be a major problem , but does Aunt Ethel really wantthat four- slice toaster you happen to see at (allegedly) half-price ?

Companies are getting savvy to the changing ways in whichtheir prospective buyers wish to make their purchases by meeting their needsand placing their outlets strategically.

Argos have opened a store at Cannon Street Station, hoping to tap intothe “rush hour” market on the London Underground, in a location noted forfinancial institutions with extremely busy punters in abundance. Others are notfar behind with John Lewis moving in the same direction.

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