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Black Friday’s discount deals are as welcome as Japanese knotweed

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.

Readers' comments (4)

  • I couldn't agree more, but it's definitely here to stay when you see the eye-watering revenues generated for the biggest retailers. Who's going to take the decision to write this out of the calendar now?

    As a supplier with it's own retail stores that had 0% deals on Black Friday and still traded very well, our wholesale business witnessed a big uplift in sales but our bestselling lines were still those with 0% discount and full margin.

    I was on the shop floor Friday and met consumers who were scathing of the Black Friday promotion and it's Americanism almost with a certain embarrassment, but in the next breath, asked for further discount!

    The problem that needs to be addressed is that the essence of Black Friday has been lost in translation, it's now a 4 day blanket promotion that simply erodes margin. Retailers need to plan in advance and negotiate specific deals to focus the promotion.

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  • The problem we have Eric is people have purposely been holding back and waiting for stores to incentivise, they know of the Jacket Mountains, our nations struggling clothing retailers, after all the bad news stories and a highly publicised Mild Autumn, they were waiting for something to give and therefore kick off their shopping, no one wants to be the one person who buys off DFS on the only day of the year they are not on sale, every year the sale ranks are broken earlier and earlier, people are more bargain and price conscious, there is a larger gap between those who have and those who aspire to have.This process is more about a nudge of encouragement to market, just like a bird fledging the nest, this was a prompt to action about the right time, I hate the notion of an America holiday kick starting our season, but "boy did it work".
    We did one day "Black Friday" only across the business, we promoted a blanket discount of 20% in line with our competitors, we broke all retail records in 90% of our stores and online breaking Boxing days numbers by 12.30 am, all of my team including myself where in the warehouse playing catch up yesterday, our stock levels are back in line with where they should be, our margin took a little kick, but balanced; should be no worse than having to discounting to a clearers at the end of the season. we have some gaps in sizes not always a bad thing, might prompt a buy now or it will sell out attitude rather than wait! and this was just the momentum to kick off Christmas, Saturdays sales where unaffected and the tills have continued to ring thereafter, the more savvy have a bargain, those with more decorum and money in equal measures couldn't care less and continue shopping full price.
    Love it or hate it shoppers are so used to being incentivised to part with their hard earned readies "Singles Days" "Black Fridays" are a thing of now! and coming to a promotion near you soon.

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  • It is very simple to stop this madness. Wait until January 1st before starting all SALES. Problem solved !

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  • darren hoggett

    There is no art in selling things cheap - none whatsoever. We had a really good weekend, but it had nothing to do with Black Friday. People got paid and wanted to spend. Thats's the way it goes. Nobody mentioned Black Friday and nobody wanted a discount. Everyone was happy.

    Once you start discounting as a business you are dancing with the devil. Instead of paying full price, the customer waits until you go on Sale. You have set a precedent and there is no way back.

    I'm sure Black Friday is here to stay, but if you really need to be discounting at the end of November when people are ready to spend, you need to have a long hard look at yourself and wonder what are you're actually in business for?

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