As South Africa joined the USA and many parts of the world in the hype around Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November, are retailers not short-changing themselves by running with early specials only to then find themselves with empty tills in the weeks leading up to the festive season?

Capatilising on Black Friday Frenzy

The push-pull facing consumers who, on the one hand, have had a torrid past few years of getting very little for their hard-earned cash, and capitalizing on the bargains that Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer, makes for a very tumultuous trading period.

Retailers, realising that the purse strings have been tightened by economic, political and social upheaval, have tried to capitalise on the Black Friday frenzy – desperately trying to get ahead of the curve and make those big ticket-item sales ahead of time – just in case the spending dries up at Xmas. 

But doesn’t that just mean that they get some sales in early and then lose out just before Christmas as consumers run out of cash?

Bargains were the order of the day, according to a Consumer Research 2022 study by Oracle Retail Shopper Outlook as consumers were prepared to fork out on big items only if the price was right. Nearly 60% of shoppers said current economic factors will cause them to spend less overall and 71% said they would consider store credit or payments plans to cover the cost of gifts.

This does not bode well for the retailers who were hoping to sell big-ticket items like TVs, smartphones and other tech – but who found cash strapped consumers were using black Friday to simply stock up on basic necessities as they fight another day of rolling blackouts, rising costs and a bleak future. The conundrum comes in when consumers have maxed out on Black Friday to buy that special ticket item at the end of November and then, as the festive season approaches and festivities are planned, the budget is blown and there is nothing left for that festive feast at Xmas, let alone stocking the bare cupboards for the new year or buying school supplies in those long lean days of January.

The post-November analysis

This paints a mixed picture as Debt Rescue reflected on the desperate financial situation most South Africans find themselves in, with a staggering 84% of consumers stating that they would be bargain-hunting for everyday necessities like food and toiletries over the Black Friday retail event, with only 27% spending on high-ticket tech and electronics.  Online sales seemed to carry the Black Friday hype, up 36,64% in the four days leading up to Black Friday in 2021, according to PayU, while transaction values and online shopping volume on the day were up 30% from 2020, with consumers spending a whopping R17million in just one hour on Black Friday itself.

But that online shopper with more disposable income is a far cry from the Black Friday Frenzy that is shown on global television screens around the world of long queues snaking for miles ahead of the midnight opening of retail store doors to pick that buy of the century. That’s because here in South Africa we somehow got this Black Friday thing wrong.  Very wrong.

Does anyone really understand the meaning of Black Friday?

The history of ‘Black Friday’ refers to the day after Thanksgiving Thursday in the USA in November when workers in the 1950s often called in sick on the day after Thanksgiving in order to score a four-day week-end. They would descend on Philadelphia’s downtown streets on the Friday to pick up bargains and retailers, trying to avoid going into the red with poor sales as the year drew to a close, saw the opportunity to go into ‘the black’ on that one day as shoppers spent their money on discounted goods.

Black Friday traditionally marks the start of the Christmas and festive retail trading season in the USA but South Africa only cottoned on to the Black Friday craze about ten years ago and instead of following that tradition of just using that one day to capitalise on the Friday frenzy, where all night queues stretch for blocks to be the first to get fantastic deals on big-ticket items, retailers in South Africa somehow seemed to have not got the memo that said ‘bargains to be had only on Black Friday’.

In true South African style, and according to the critics, the whole Black Friday frenzy is a sham as South African retailers have wanted their cake and eat it as well.  Not satisfied with just concentrating on that one day to sell those big-ticket items, they started out with pre-Black Friday specials, month-long specials and now that Black Friday is over, still try to entice shoppers with mediocre offerings post Black Friday.

The Result

A mish-mash of confusing messages to cash-strapped consumers – who instead of shopping for those luxury goods and expensive gifts are bargain hunting for basic commodities and basic foodstuffs that may – or may not – last until the cupboards are bare in the early days of January.

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