Merry Black Friday! But are Britons ready to buy into US retailers’ hype?

Amazon has led the way in seeking to convince the British public that today is the day of the year when we should all be purchasing electrical goods

Ian Burrell
Thursday 28 November 2013 17:15 GMT
A crowd of shoppers browse at a Target store in America during Black Friday last year.
A crowd of shoppers browse at a Target store in America during Black Friday last year. (REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn )

It might sound to most British ears like a calamitous day on the London Stock Exchange but “Black Friday” has followed Mother’s Day and Halloween across the Atlantic and forced its way into the commercial calendar.

Global retail company Amazon has led the way in seeking to convince the British public that today – the day after America’s Thanksgiving Day and the start of the “holiday” shopping season – is the day of the year when we should be purchasing electrical goods.

The UK arm of the shopping giant has offered a series of “lightning deals” on what its publicity team claimed are “must-have” items, including a rechargeable Braun shaver and a Krups Nespresso Essenza coffee machine.

For those Brits unable to purchase today, there is always “Black Friday Re-loaded Weekend” or else “Cyber Monday” on 2 December, when many Americans binge on Internet shopping at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s not just Amazon that is using this sales pitch. Big British retailers, such as John Lewis and Asda, are embracing the “Black Friday” concept. Ed Connolly, buying director for electricals and home technology at John Lewis, said the store had seen a doubling of electrical goods sales on Black Friday last year and was encouraging the idea “that there’s an event on this day”.

He said: “I think people are referring to it more and more. If you see what people are typing into Google from the UK, I think Black Friday means something to the UK customer. I personally think it’s here to stay.”

It is only nine days ago that John Lewis launched its Christmas advert, featuring the voice of Lily Allen, one of a series of blockbuster campaigns from retail giants, which are responding to signs of an upturn in the economy with the biggest frenzy of commercial activity for some years.

Asda has also seized on the Black Friday idea. The supermarket chain is owned by the US retail giant Walmart and is promising “earth shattering deals” as it mimics the sales patter of its parent company. Asda supermarkets will use Walmart logos and marketing messages. “We’re taking our lead from them and utilising their know how to help create an offer that means Asda shoppers can benefit from incredible savings at a time when they really need us the most,” said Andrew Moore, Asda’s chief merchandising officer.

But despite the efforts of public relations team to generate hype around Black Friday, PR expert Mark Borkowski expressed doubt that the idea would take hold in the UK, where there is no tradition of Thanksgiving Day. “When I first heard of Black Friday I thought it was a collapse in the banking system – because that’s how it is understood here,” he said. “The January sales are iconic in the UK and there’s a cultural significance to them. The Brits are a nation of bargain hunters and they will see through this flannel.”

Amazon sees it differently. For days it has been running “Black Friday Deals Week” and claims that UK shoppers have “pocketed millions of pounds of savings” in the rush to secure such essential items as the SodaStream Stream Drinksmaker and the Nintendo 3DS Handheld Console. Amazon expects sales on “Cyber Monday” to peak at 6pm, when shoppers emerge from the workplace to make their purchases.

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