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News Room

Black Friday – How The Madness Began

Jason Snyman
2019-11-19
Black Friday. Savings. Spendings. Stampedes. We took a look at the not-so-humble beginnings of everybody’s favourite shopping spree, and how we should prioritize our spending.

The USA's Thanksgiving holiday hasn’t quite taken off in South Africa, but more and more of our retailers are getting on board with the hysterical shopping extravaganza that follows: Black Friday. Everybody's favourite trample-based experience. 

Dion Chang, trend expert and founder of Flux Trends, sums it up best:

Africa has an hour glass economy – with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the middle class being squeezed – people are going for deals just to make ends meet. For big and small businesses, this is definitely an opportunity for them to join and leverage this trend for their brand.

Recent research has shown that Black Friday has grown faster in South Africa than in any other country in the world, and according to Google Trends, South Africa’s search interest in Black Friday over the last couple of years has even been higher than in the USA - the country of its origin. 

Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s still not the busiest shopping day of the year. That dubious honour still belongs to the Saturday just before Christmas Day. 

It wasn’t until the late 60’s that the term ‘Black Friday’ gained popularity in the US, and because of the misunderstood racial undertones, some South African critics are yet to embrace it. 

It seems, though, that Black Friday, by any name, is here to stay. 

Welcome to Thunderdome, shoppers.  

What’s In The Name?

Rumours began to circulate some years ago that the term ‘Black Friday’ originated in the US with the exercise of selling off slaves on the day after Thanksgiving. 

According to myth busters, Snopes.com, though, this rumour is entirely false. The term didn’t originate until nearly a century after slavery was abolished. 

By 1961, the term ‘Black Friday’ was being used in a disdainful sense by Philadelphia police traffic squad. They, as well as bus and taxi drivers, had to deal with the absolute pandemonium caused by all the extra traffic, as hordes of shoppers headed toward the stores over the two days following Thanksgiving. 

Another widespread explanation is that ‘Black Friday’ is a term used to signify the day most retailers finally begin to show a profit. In accounting terms, this would mean moving from in the red to in the black. Red ink, of course, indicates debt. This explanation was likely invented by retailers themselves, in order to avoid the negative connotations associated with the day, thanks to Philadelphia. The earliest known use of the term, related to accounting, dates from 1981. 

This means the first use of the term is indeed credited to the Philadelphia police department.

Black Friday – The Beginning

Retailers have been pushing consumers to shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving for a long time. By the 1930’s, the day marked the beginning of the Christmas trolley-ramming season. 

Get your gifts now, get them while they’re cheap and get them before they’re gone forever. 

While it isn’t recognised as an official US holiday, many schools are closed and many employers give their staff the day off to go shopping. Unless you work in retail, that is, in which case you’re all out of luck. Better wear some comfortable shoes. And a gum guard. 

Retailers slowly began to realize that they could draw massive crowds by offering discounted prices (shocker), and before they knew it, Black Friday had taken off, with prices slashed on everything from toys to clothing to furniture. 

As the day grew in popularity, retailers began to open their doors to the public as early as 5am, allowing all the shoppers who had been camping out overnight to stampede on in. 

Some of the prices these retailers may offer on goods could bring in little to no profit at all - called loss-leaders - all in an effort to entice more customers in and to get them shopping. Absolute lunacy and panic prevails when shoppers begin to fear that they might just miss out on some of the best deals. 

When we panic, we don’t think clearly, people fall over one another, flailing limbs, screaming, mowing each other down with our trolleys. and the truth is that most of the time there is absolutely nothing rare or scarce or valuable about these items at all, and we’ve been tricked into not only buying it, but paying the same price that it was offered at a week ago.

Checkers claims to be the first retailer to have brought Black Friday to South Africa, back in 2014. The retail-giant served more than one million customers on Black Friday the following year. 

Checkers, Dion Wired and Pick n Pay remain the most talked about brands on the day, but the trend is predominantly driven by e-commerce players such as Takealot, Makro, Spree and Game. 

Avoid Overspending

Many people think that Black Friday is this relatively new shopping phenomenon. where retailers offer these ridiculous specials in order to get hundreds of people into their stores – and this is relatively true – you do get some pretty good deals. The problem is that people tend to overspend and buy things they don’t really need, instead of taking advantage of these deals to enhance their lives and save money. 

This isn’t your fault. Retailers have been employing strategic, sneaky and secret tactics to get you to spend more money since the very beginning.

In truth, Black Friday is just another seasonal sale and there’s nothing truly exceptional about it. There will be other sales throughout the year, offering more or less the same deals.

You need to ask yourself, have I done my homework? Have I kept a pricing record of those items I really want? Retailers aren’t going to do that for you – there is no legislation in South Africa that forces retailers to provide consumers with the price history of any specific item. This allows them to mark something as ‘on sale’ – but when compared to historic or even current prices, it probably isn’t a bargain at all.

  • Always do your homework well before the time, compare products and prices online;
  • Compile a wish list, know exactly what you need;
  • Prioritize your purchases by need, instead of desire;
  • Set a budget, and stick to it, no matter what.

And so, we learn to recognise a truly great deal when we see one.

Avoid Being Trampled

For those who would rather avoid the madness and emotional turmoil that is Black Friday mall-shopping, there’s always e-commerce, or Cyber Monday. 

Many great deals extend all the way through the weekend, or even the following week, and can be obtained from the safety of your couch at home. 

Many companies that don’t participate in Black Friday will often offer exclusive Cyber Monday deals, instead. 

The best way to avoid being trampled? Stay inside and do your shopping through Takealot, Loot, Amazon, Spree or any number of other great online stores. 

For different categories, of course, both are great days to shop. Shopping from home for specials isn’t a sure bet, though. Deals appear and disappear all day, sometimes within minutes. Websites crash, overwhelmed by the thousands of visitors. You may spend all day tethered to your laptop, wondering if the site you’re shopping on is updating their stock on time. By the time you check out, those items may be gone. 

If you’re absolutely compelled to go out and brave your local mall…

How To Survive A Stampede

There have been instances, in South Africa and worldwide, where feverish spending has gotten out of hand. Black Friday shopping causes thousands of injuries every year and there’s even a Black Friday Death Count website. 

Always be vigilant. Not only is pickpocketing and follow-home attacks (criminals know that you've just loaded your vehicle with all kinds of great new purchases) on the rise during this period, but we need to watch out for our fellow shoppers too.

Malls and stores often have narrow, single points of exit and entry. These aren’t ideal for survival in stampede conditions. It’s important to make a mental not of your surroundings. 

Needless to say, it’s not ideal to take small children along to do any shopping. 

If the worst were to occur:

  • Stay on your feet and keep moving;
  • Don't push against the crowd. Move along with it, but diagonally between pockets of people;
  • Use sign language to communicate with those around you;
  • Keep your hands up by your chest. Just like a boxer. This gives you movement and protects your chest;
  • Remain calm. Do not scream or shout;
  • Stay away from walls, fences or barricades;
  • If somebody goes down, extend your hand and help them up. These moments call for compassion and heroism;
  • If you go down, get up quickly. If you can’t, cover your head with your arms and assume the fetal position. Do not roll over onto your back or belly.

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