Black Friday is a retail industry trick played on gullible consumers

Which? revealed that around 60 per cent of a selection of last year’s Black Friday deals were actually cheaper or the same price at other points during the year

Josie Co
Wednesday 22 November 2017 11:11
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What is Black Friday?

Being interested in business and economics I’ve known about Black Wednesday of 1992 since my school days. As a fan of Eighties music, I can tell you that "Blue Monday" is a great track by New Order. And Maundy Tuesday, Black Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Bloody Sunday are terms we're all familiar with.

But a few years ago, Black Friday was introduced into my expanding vocabulary of colour/day-of-the-week combos, and I’m holding out for a time when I can pretend it never did.

Of course I've always known that in the weeks leading up to Christmas the number of thrifty shoppers hitting Oxford Street, and other meccas of consumption, increases rapidly. Only within the last few years, though, have I realised the full extent of the annual spending orgy.

The epitome of that debauchery will be upon us again this Friday and I pity anyone caught up in the ordeal. They'll need steel nerves, flawless analytical skills and, for their own sake, more discipline than cash.

Considering the panic that characterises the rush, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the timing of Christmas – and Black Friday for that matter – is a surprise that catches us off guard every year.

Amazon Black Friday Pop Up Home Experience

But it’s not. Every year we theoretically have 12 months to prepare for the next Christian festival of excessive giving and receiving. Every year we wait until the weeks just before the big day to max out our credit cards and let our stress levels soar. And every year we’re convinced that we got a prize-winning bargain at the end of the day.

So if you choose to partake, consider this a public service announcement: at best Black Friday will encourage you to spend more than you should. At worst it will shamelessly rip you off and leave you to kick off the New Year broke and grumpy, surrounded by family and friends who've already forgotten what you bought them. It was the thought that counts, they'll say.

By some estimates, UK shoppers will spend in excess of £10bn on Black Friday this year. For the first time ever, discount retailer Lidl – nipping at the heels of the big four – is joining the fray and although Asda has indicated that it will largely be sitting this one out, Tesco is joining the party head-on, opening many stores at 1am to cater for the particularly hardy hunters.

Punchy inflation levels have dampened some appetites on the high street – particularly for clothes and apparel – but eBay has told me that it's expecting its best Black Friday ever, with up to 87.5 million site visits. According to its own data, three people per second searched for the word “iPhone” on average every day during Black Friday week 2016. On the day itself, there were two searches a second for Dyson vacuum cleaners. And this year looks set to be even bigger.

All these statistics underscore that Black Friday is perhaps the best trick the conniving retail industry has ever played on the gullible, consumption-obsessed populus that we have become.

Earlier this week, research by consumer goods group Which? revealed that around 60 per cent of a selection of last year’s Black Friday deals were actually cheaper or the same price at other points during the year. I can’t say I’m surprised.

If you’re repeatedly told that Black Friday is the bargain fest of the year – as we are – then what would lead you to believe that the neon discount signs are actually lying? If shop fronts, online ads and billboards are telling you that you’ve hit the jackpot big time, they’re surely doing so for a reason, right?

Now, don't get me wrong. I don’t think all sellers are crooks who are out to brazenly con you. I’m sure there are deals that, if taken advantage of in isolation, will save you money. The problem is, though, that large retailers are incredibly savvy and not shy of using techniques that will lure you in and keep the cash tills ringing – even if one or two items that ended up in your basket really are quite cheap.

Bought a brand new laptop much cheaper than it was advertised a week ago? Great, but what about the software, protective sleeve and other bits and bobs that were flogged to you successfully, just because you couldn't resist that Black Friday-branded discount. Everyone else was queuing up to buy, so surely the deal is too sweet to miss. But what about delivery costs, returns policy, and policy on price-matching later in the month?

The idea of splashing out on rock-bottom prices for one day only might appeal to you. But remember that it's easy to dazzle the cash-conscious with the promise of saving, especially in an era of low wage growth, high inflation and pricey living.

Let me just remind you that bulk-buying bargains because everyone else is doing it, is not the only way to get into the Christmas spirit. Mince pies and a glass of sherry tend to do the trick too. Who needs a new Dyson anyway?

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