26 November 2018

Africa: Black Friday - America's Worst Export?


Black Friday has become the most publicised shopping day of the year. It falls on the Friday after the American Thanksgiving holiday and is steadily becoming a craze in Africa as well. Opinions on Black Friday are divided, but the reality is increasingly negative.

Black Friday originated in a shopping context in the United States, where it described the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur the day after Thanksgiving. Another theory holds that retailers used the term to mark the day they began to turn a profit for the year. It is now a marker for the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

Due to its immense success in the United States, brands and retailers in Africa have jumped onto the bandwagon. Over the years, Black Friday has steadily risen in popularity and become a staple in the year's event calendar.

Black Friday is marketed to consumers as an opportunity to access limited special discounts in stores and online shops. But are the deals really that good?

Magnified materialism

Most of the deals available on Black Friday are on kitchen goods, clothes, tools, beauty products, toys, laptops and appliances. There are rarely great deals on non-luxury items - and many consumers have made note of this. What this means is that people are more likely to buy items, or buy more of something, they do not really need simply because it is on sale.

Retailers are now banking on consumers' drive to spend to such an extent that Black Friday is quickly becoming Black November. Many retailers are extending their 'sales' to include Cyber Mondays and even the weeks before and after Black Friday.

"To benefit from changing buying patterns, retailers are extending their Black Friday offerings to a week or more leading up to the day and the days thereafter, including the ensuing weekend leading up to Cyber Monday," according to research done by auditing firm and global consultancy PwC.

Read: Shopping spree headlines could cost Mauritian president her position

"Retailers are also responding to the fact that Black Friday generally occurs ahead of private sector payday on the 25th."

"Google Trends data indicates that up until 2016, online searches in South Africa for 'Black Friday' were limited to the month of November. There was increased interest from October 2017, while this year's online interest started in September already."

Unnecessary debt

Because Black Friday is positioned before the private sector's payday, many people rely on credit facilities to participate in the sales.

According to BankservAfrica, 4.7 million card transactions were processed on Black Friday 2017 in South Africa. Of these, 260 552 were online transactions. This amounted to R2.5 billion worth of debit and credit card retail transactions, up from R2.3 billion in 2016 - twice the daily average, BankservAfrica reported.

Fake deals, "limited" offers and planned obsolescence

Increased shopping naturally leads to an increase in fraud and scams at the expense of unsuspecting consumers. For example, travel agents add their own internal mark-ups to discounted deals offered by their "suppliers". Online travel retailer Travelstart founder Stephan Ekbergh told Business Tech news site, "It happens often when we run campaigns. The sad thing is that unwitting consumers end up paying a lot more for travel than they should."

"We were alerted via our customer service channels early in the day, as well as by several bookings that were made in the same email address of South African travel agents known to us."

"This is not in the pre-holiday spirit of Black Friday and we have adapted our terms and conditions so that we reserve the right to recharge travel agents who sell our tickets with their own mark-up."

Fact is, the discount percentages being offered on Black Friday are actually just regular sales. In the United States, discount percentages are quite high, as opposed to the 20% or 30% being offered in African Black Friday sales.

If that does not cause you to pause and think about why you are buying the items to begin with, then this should: Planned obsolescence, or built-in obsolescence, is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so that it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time. That is why you end up replacing items as often as you do. It is all a set-up!


Bargain hunters have turned Black Friday into Black Friday madness. Reports of riots and stampedes are everywhere. Not only is this a day bad for your wallet but it can be physically detrimental too. Shoppers have incurred injuries and trauma from in-store sales.

Perhaps online sales are safer? Whatever you decide, the saying "Buyer, beware" has never been more true.


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