Why Black Friday is no longer just one day
The US pre-Christmas flash sales tradition spread to these shores last year, but don't get carried away and make sure you read the small print, says John Cradden
Black Friday is a discount sales phenomenon that arrived in the UK and Ireland with something of a bang last year, and is due to fall again this year on November 25.
It's a big tradition in the US, where shoppers flock to the stores the day after Thanksgiving to snap up all kinds of goods in this one-day flash sales festival. Retailers offer big one-day-only discounts on large numbers of products in an attempt to persuade you to spend your hard-earned cash in the run-up to Christmas.
Many retailers here jumped on the bandwagon, although many others seemed to be unhappy about it, believing the whole thing was more trouble than it's worth.
Retail Excellence Ireland's (REI) commercial and communications director, Lynn Drumgoole, says some of them were taken by surprise at the heightened consumer expectations of huge bargains that the phenomenon generated last year, particularly through social media.
"The feeling is that this year will be a little less manic, but certainly there is increased pressure on retailers to get involved in something."
It's already shifted consumers' shopping habits here, judging by REI figures released earlier this year that appeared to show a trend emerging of Irish shoppers prioritising Black Friday sales over traditional gift-buying periods and post-Christmas sales.
However, Drumgoole says some retailers have been taking a more pragmatic and flexible approach to the phenomenon this year, such as by extending special discounts over a few days or a week either side of November 25 or 28, in the hope of generating interest, but at the same time avoiding the concentration of spend on a single day.
Indeed, Argos is opening its pre-Christmas sales campaign on November 18, and Amazon have already slashed prices ahead of Black Friday in what it claims is the biggest sale in its history.
Sky are giving away a free 32" Samsung TV to new customers who join Sky TV on a 12-month contract, in a special offer that ends on December 8.
DID Electrical kicked off their Red November sale ahead of Black Friday, offering discounts all month.
Others, such as Harvey Norman, Currys, and M&S are holding off until closer to the day to announce their own discounts.
But while it's definitely tempting to hold back on shopping you might have done in November or even October in the hope of bagging bargains on Black Friday and its online shopping equivalent, Cyber Monday (November 28), it comes with a few caveats.
Dermott Jewell, the Consumer Association of Ireland's policy advisor, said: "We found this last year that very, very often, and too often, the prices are not as attractive as they would be in the US. In the US, they have a very, very different approach, but here it's just being seen as an opportunity to make your presence felt on the retail side."
On some occasions, prices are low only because they're getting rid of some quite old stock that they want to see the back of, he added.
Some retailers will eschew the whole thing, too, so "you'll get some bargains, but you won't get, if you like, a nationwide effort very similar to that in the US, that's just not the way it's done here".
In the UK, Black Friday bargain hunters have been warned "do your research" after a watchdog found half of last year's so-called deals were cheaper on other days.
UK consumer group Which? found that 49pc of the Black Friday offers in 2015 were not the cheapest on the day itself. The watchdog tracked 178 deals on 20 gadgets and home appliances at Amazon, Argos, Currys and John Lewis every day for three months before and two months after Black Friday. It found that only 90 out of the 178 deals were cheapest on Black Friday.
This warning is likely to be relevant to shoppers here who may choose to sniff out bargains on UK websites or in stores in Northern Ireland in a bid to take advantage of the weaker sterling.
"It is absolutely outrageous that the prices have not dropped on this side of the border, and that's why there could be an opportunity taken by retailers here to wait until Friday to reduce prices, but they'll be no more than what consumers should have been entitled to in the first place," said Jewell.
But if you are set on heading across the border to do some of your Christmas shopping sometime over the next few weeks, you might want to avoid heading there on Black Friday. The 'Belfast Telegraph' newspaper reports a recent poll showing that 60pc of people in Northern Ireland class Black Friday as an integral part of their Christmas shopping, with many planning to camp outside stores overnight.
"The advice always is, look, don't panic on the day," said Jewell. "Be it Black Friday or Cyber Monday, if you see something at a price, go and have a look at some other site to see is anyone else selling it even close to that price.
"More importantly, see what the price is in the store without having to pay the delivery cost."
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission also advises shoppers to do their homework, check prices elsewhere and read the small print: "Always remember when it comes to discount deals, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is," a spokeswoman said.