Why Black Friday is a Black Day

Black Friday is a big deal in the U.S., but does it serve any real retailer purpose elsewhere?
Posted November 22, 2017

According to one of the many surveys on consumer sentiment in the U.K. at the moment, more than 60 percent of shoppers expect to spend less on Black Friday this year than in 2016. It’s hardly surprising, there are so many promotions to deal with, and in spite of the fact that discounting does have an effect on margins, you’d be surprised at how many retailers are quick to tell you “strangely, we’re bucking the trend.”

Maybe so, but are there any retailers out there strong enough to go against the flow and not discount merchandise when everyone around them are doing so? It’s actually a tough call as you walk along any shopping street or wander through a U.K. shopping centre (that’s a “mall”).

The modus operandi seems to be to put a black sign with white lettering in the window(s) and a percentage off most of the stock in the store. Rather than a cause for shopper joy, however, it does look as if much of the country has been taken over by the funeral directors’ association.

So here’s a thought. Black Friday is the moment in the U.S. that comes directly after Thanksgiving when shoppers storm the stores (allegedly).

Oddly, we don’t celebrate Thanskgiving this side of the water, and the big holiday for us is still a month or so away – we call it Christmas. This involves a lot more effort, a much bigger spend and windows and store interiors that actually make you feel good. The total cost won’t be counted by shoppers until after the “holidays.”

All of which means that Black Friday is a time when retailers in the U.K. indulge in a little self-immolation as far as profits are concerned. It won’t last. It can’t last. And anyway, as some folks are beginning to realize, if consumers hang on until nearer to December 25th, the bargains are likely to come thicker and faster as retailers clear stock while there are still shoppers around.

Just sayin’.

John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.