When the kids ask you, in your dotage, when the days of the year first came to be branded with ridiculous, commercial monikers (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Manic Monday, Credit-Rating-Fail Tuesday, etc), remember this year. For while 2013 was when Black Friday and its ilk invaded these shores, it is this year that the madness truly set in.
In case you missed it, today is Black Friday, the discount sales day after the saccharine festival of Thanksgiving. As a pair, the two are delightfully American – you’re thankful for family, health and all that jazz; now you want more stuff. Well, thanks largely to Amazon and Asda, we in the UK now seem to have the best of both worlds – the vicious price cuts of Black Friday, but without the tedium of prior reflection. For that, of course, we are truly thankful.
The bonanza began online at midnight. Britons are expected to break website records with 8.5 million orders in a 24 hour period, according to research by Visa Europe, but the biggest change will be seen in the high streets. As you read this, tens of thousands of discount hungry consumers are converging on supermarkets and department stores across the country, to feast on an unprecedented banquet of bargains.
Asda’s gradual transformation into the UK branch of owner Walmart has accelerated, with the supermarket offering discounts on 700,000 products (twice its offering last year) in 441 stores, and extending the deals into Saturday, when most people are conveniently not at work. Tesco, meanwhile, says it will beat Boxing Day sales today by offering up to 70% off over 200 items.
Tesco general merchandise director Rob Hattrell even went as far as to say ‘Black Friday now marks the real start of Christmas shopping’, though it's possible he may not have noticed all the inappropriately festive decorations strewn across stores across the country for the last month.
For all the anticipated successes of Black Friday, however, the biggest day of the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy might turn out to be Cyber Monday (otherwise known as Monday). According to Sage Pay, £600m of the £1.5bn expected spending online over this long weekend will in fact fall on Monday – a 10% increase on last year. As more and more shopping goes online, Cyber Monday’s gains over Black Friday are only set to continue.
There are certain advantages to shopping frenzies taking place online. At least they don’t involve violence and disorder, unless of course some disgruntled hacker gets particularly miffed about the slow loading times that disrupted site including Tesco Direct. Following last year’s fisticuffs in Bristol and Northern Ireland over Black Friday sales, police were called in the wee hours of this morning to maintain order in more than ten supermarkets. Greater Manchester police went to at least seven Tescos, taking two scuffling men away in handcuffs. Well, it must make a nice change from the SFO, anyway.
Perhaps the promise of all those sales will cheer Tesco and the others up, but even this might be wishful thinking. Christmas shopping revenues may well be essentially fixed, which means these sales may not actually help the top line one bit.
'All Black Friday is likely to do is bring forward business from December, reduce gross margins and undermine consumers' willingness to pay full price again before Christmas,' retail analyst Nick Bubb told the FT.
Besides, will it really help the big supermarkets in their price war with Aldi and Lidl, who have neither the inclination nor the spare capacity to 'celebrate' Black Friday, to make stark just how much higher their prices are the rest of the year?
If you think Black Friday is a vile import and would like something more erudite to take your mind off it, why not try following NASA on Twitter? Today is, apparently, also Black Hole Friday, an opportunity for you to learn all about extremely dense, all-consuming phenomena that suck the very light out of Christmas… erm, I mean space.