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A pre-Christmas 'dark side' research on black Friday: A discount or a fight?

19/12/2017
A pre-Christmas 'dark side' research on black Friday: A discount or a fight?

Bing CrosbyWhen Bing Crosby’s single “White Christmas” topped the charts in 1942, no-one would have expected it to still be the number one selling single of all time some 75 years later[i]. Yet, the romantic seasonal notions conjured up by the ol’ crooner still drives people to the shops today, more than ever before, and it all starts on Black Friday. Just what does it all mean?

It is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, therefore always falling on the fourth Friday of November, which has been widely adopted by the US market as the beginning of the Christmas shopping period. Traditionally, and as a way of kick starting the spree, large discounts on products are made available in many commercial outlets for that one day of the year as a way of attracting customers, most of whom often perceive the occasion as worth queuing for at shop entrances prior to their opening – in recent years this has been taken to an extreme whereby queuing takes place days in advance prior to shops opening at midnight. That idea of Black Friday has indeed become more notable over the last decade, probably helped in large part by social media, and has since been widely adopted outside of the US because of its potential in generating seasonal sales.

Black Friday History

Black friday hustleHowever, the term has darker origins, coined as far back as 1961 when the Philadelphia Police Department gave the name to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day because of the mayhem surrounding the congestion of traffic and pedestrians as the shopping season was officially opened. The connotations surrounding the name were no doubt negatively associated with other ‘black days’ in history, such as Black Monday in 1987 and Black Tuesday in 1929 which are both notable for financial downturns, as well as Black Thursday which is marked as the official day when the Great Depression began. Although such dark origins did not stop the shopping trend from continuing over the years, it was only in the 1980s when retailers found a way to turn the term into something more positive and to their advantage, noting that while accountants would normally use red to signify loss, black is used to signify profit when recording entries – therefore Black Friday should be a ‘profitable’ day and it is also around the time of the year when businesses should begin to turn a profit.

Why Black Friday?

The atmosphere at that time of the year is normally one where the Christmas spirit is being drawn upon, just as Crosby would have us believe, reminding us of jolly green jumpers and reindeers with pompoms, as well as family and close friends and for all the gifts which need to be bought or surprises planned for. For retailers, that is a good enough reason as any to have a Black Friday, as increase of potential in-store and online shoppers is one for which they will be only too happy to accommodate. According to statista.com[ii], US sales in 2017 reached record heights and the period before Christmas is well known by retailers as a target for boosting such figures. However, did you know that some retailers also take advantage of the situation to push old stock onto the market, in order to be able to make room to restock new items and products?[iii] This is quite a common sales strategy which is used to achieve sales targets and reach yearly goals. Blending products that are discounted at 75% to 50% with Christmas shopping trends brings results. But how accurate are these product discounts?

High value products miss the boat

It’s easy to understand that global manufacturers do not wish to sell new products at discounted prices which is the most common decision behind pushing sales for older products which might otherwise be collecting dust in warehouses. If you consider a top mobile phone that has just been released on the market, it will not be sold at a discounted price, even during Black Friday. However, a seller might choose to offer additional savings on related products and services as perceived value for buying the newly released phone. On the flipside, Crosby's holiday collection ‘Merry Christmas’ was first released as an LP in 1949, has never been out of print since and will surely be on a few shelves this Christmas at a nicely discounted price.

Holiday season scams

Given the technology available today, about 25% of 20 to 30 year olds are well capable of creating a branded online store in a matter of days and execute AdWords campaign in order to generate sales. Although this might seem good, such sites might also increase cybercrime risks. Fake online stores are one of the ways how attackers get financial gain and customer’s credit card information[iv]. An online scam can easily be identified with a little research and caution, so don’t get fooled. If you still decide to buy presents online, place your orders with a trusted online store and be sure you are using site with SSL certificates, identified by the URL which begins with HTTPS. Get to know your customer rights and be smart, think smart and act smart before you buy. Did you know that EU rules state that the traders need to display correct and complete pricing information before a customer makes a purchase online and that the trader is responsible for any product damage?[v]   

Bigger and badder

image of google trends black fridayAccording to the data collected and research carried out, the Black Friday shopping trends are set to keep on increasing, especially the coming two to three years. Such results are also visible on Google Trends. As the trends spreads globally, risks will naturally also increase. Already prevalent are the long queues, tensions among shoppers, reports of unruly behaviour and sometimes fighting over products. In line with increased sales records in the US, another record was broken with an all-time high of 203,086 requests for instant gun background checks, nearly a 10% increase from the 2016[vi]. Such records can be seen as an increase in risk to public safety, bringing potential problems and raising concern. This darker side of Black Friday does beg the question: “Besides emptying our pockets, has Black Friday become a day that poses increased risk to global safety?” Time will tell and we will certainly be mindful as statistics become more available. In the meantime, enjoy your holidays, may your days be merry and bright. And may all your Christmases be….

 

Simeon Kirilov is a digital marketing specialist at Deloitte Digital. Simon Zammit Cutajar is a digital communications manager at Deloitte Malta. For more information, please visit www.deloittedigital.com.mt