Having had many a happy visit to the US, roaming about from sea to shining sea, I am very fond of that fine republic.
Any country that has given the world Tamla Motown, the Hawaiian shirt and Tabasco sauce is OK with me. However, I wish our American friends had kept Black Friday to themselves.
As an unwelcome import to the British Isles, it’s up there with swine flu, Japanese knotweed and jeans worn below the buttocks. While I can understand that our Stateside cousins want to prolong their Thanksgiving vacation (always the fourth Thursday in November) by one day, I do not see why we have to adopt this made-up holiday as an over-hyped shopping day.
There is a bittersweet irony that Thanksgiving itself, according to some, can be traced back to 1621 when the Pilgrim Fathers in Massachusetts celebrated a good harvest. I suspect the Puritan immigrants were happy to have enough, but not too much, to eat in the New World, but Black Friday seems to be about excessive consumption.
I was confused about why a supposedly fun day - if you like being prodded into shopping like crazy - had such a gloomy name. The internet revealed that Black Friday was the name Philadelphia police in the mid-1950s gave to the raucous shopping day after Thanksgiving. Twenty years later, it seems some bright spark decided it indicated the day when retailers moved from the loss-making quiet period of being in the red to the highly profitable weeks of being in the black as Christmas approached. That’s a nice bit of hokum, but judging by the UK and Irish retailers’ obsession with giving discounts on or around November 28, I would have thought profit margins would be very much under pressure.
Unless my poor overworked memory has failed me again, I seem to remember first writing about the dangers (or idiocy) of discounting before Christmas as long ago as the early 1980s. In the ensuing three decades what was regarded as retail madness or margin suicide has now become normal practice. This year the pressure created by inauspicious autumn weather has encouraged even more discounting already. What a great time it is to be a consumer.
While last week I called for a special shopping day to be dreamed up to rival the amazing Singles Day in China, my wish is that the industry thinks about ways it can sell at full margin. As one of our leading retail brains remarked to me recently, “Anyone can sell a pound for 50 pence.” The whole premise of Black Friday with its special deals only reinforces in the consumer’s mind that, if they wait long enough, all things will be discounted.
In my innocent way, I’d have thought the last payday Friday before Christmas might have seen the start of some action anyway, without the incentive of red discount banners in windows and on websites, but I fear the damage has now been done. I cannot see the tide of pre-Christmas giveaways being reversed. It will take a brave retailer with a cool head and deep pockets to maintain the dignity and good sense to resist this madness.
I am not convinced that a good Black Friday (and its supposedly short-lived bargain offers) will kick-start a good Christmas shopping period. I still cling to the belief that consumers will spend as Christmas approaches even if prices are not discounted.
On a cheerier note, we had a brilliant time at the Drapers Awards last Thursday. I am thrilled that the generosity of 800-plus guests and advertisers in our brochure raised £25,000 for trade charity Fashion & Textile Children’s Trust (FTCT). That is my idea of Christmas spirit. Many thanks to you all.