Wednesday 16 January 2019

Why - and how - did Ireland become so obsessed with Black Friday?

Shoppers are checking products and prices on Grafton Street ahead of the Black Friday
Shoppers are checking products and prices on Grafton Street ahead of the Black Friday
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

My memories of Black Friday are mostly ones of abject horror.

Growing up in New York, Black Friday wasn't a word which invoked consumer excitement, but one of fear. Every year, I watched news reports of people queuing for hours in the dark, cold weather with one thing on their mind - saving money.

These were the days before the advent of online shopping - and before Black Friday's sister celebration Cyber Monday -  and determined shoppers who were cold and hungry turned the whole affair into a blood sport where no prisoners were taken.

The concept of Black Friday is exhilarating and like many things, on paper it sounds fantastic. Storewide discounts on current season stock? Where do I sign up! But some things are too good to be true.

For some in the US, it's a national pastime: the day after Thanksgiving, you have the opportunity to work off your turkey calories and get some alone time from your family in the hope of saving even a little bit and relieving the pressure of a costly Christmas.

But there is no Thanksgiving Day in Ireland; no turkey pre-curser to Christmas, and yet still, why we have adopted this this...er...colourful tradition, albeit minus the potential violence, is still a mystery to me.

Dermot Jewell, Policy and Council Advisor with the Consumers Association of Ireland, told Independent.ie Style that shopping behaviours changed after the recession and the unwavering influence of the internet has transformed the way we consume.

“Even when we went into the banking crisis, at that time, there was a phenomenal amount of trans-Atlantic travel pre-Christmas and that was noted by a number of retailers as a point where they could see they were losing money before Christmas,” he said.

“Then we move forward into a crisis and the world became aware of the value of money and the importance to hold as much as money at home as you could. Retailers looked at what was happening and could see two things: the take in Ireland of online shopping remains phenomenal and we needed to do something because people were travelling across the border because of the value of sterling.”

The internet has changed the entire landscape of consumption in Ireland across industries, and as footfall continues to decrease across the board, most companies are marrying their online stores with their brick and mortar establishment to maximise impact. This falls under 'Cyber Monday', a day of discounts and deals available online three days after Black Friday.

“From our perspective, if you have staggered discounts across the board, it’s much more beneficial. We don’t want everybody in the shops now and no one over Christmas,” David Campbell, eCommerce Manager at Retail Excellence said.

“A lot of retailers invest heavily in digital marketing strategies and instead of offering 20% flat rates to shift some products; they are instead focusing on best-sellers and creating real value for consumers. Forget the impression of selling off old stock from a warehouse.”

In Dublin, the biggest shopping day of the year outside of Christmas week was December 8 when traditionally, people would flock to the capital from around the country, but this has been largely done away with in recent years.

The new demands imposed on business isn't just at a benefit to the consumer, but also adds undue stress on independent retailers and some SMEs, which don't have the resources or infrastructure to cope with what is leaning towards a trend of year-round sales; especially when competing against department stores and chains with deep pockets.

“Really, it’s Cyber Week and it will be Cyber Fortnight, if not Cyber Month before we know it,” Mr Campbell added.

There remains pressure on some businesses, especially smaller ones, to keep up with the big guns, which just isn’t feasible. Mr Jewell explained that most of the focus remains on big-ticket tech items or homewares.

“It never has and never will happen in a restaurant. It only happens where unique competition in a limited sense like tvs, clothing, technology, Apple watches, shoes, that’s where the focus is,” Mr Jewell explained.

However, the Black Friday invasion might cause outrage among those who are still recovering from their affront at Ireland’s Americanisation of Halloween, it does provide some benefit to shoppers.

“Consumers have come to know their rights and they prefer to either buy at home where they can bring it back to the store,” he said.

Similarly, Mr Campbell said that “customer service is king” with Irish sellers and remains their USP.

“It’s not a fad that’s going away,” he says. “But consumers are much more educated compared to three to five years ago. It’s the one time of year they will do a serious amount of market research. “You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. It’s really about being smart. It’s not reinventing the wheel. Be good and loyal to your consumers. Don’t over-promise and stick to your own expectations."

My advice is not to get caught up in the chaos and excitement of it all and the same sage rule of shopping applies - if you wouldn't buy it at full price, don't buy it on sale. Remember, we still have the flurry of St Stephen's Day sales to contend with in a few weeks.

Online Editors

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