Stampedes. Stabbings. Pepper spray used as a weapon. Children hospitalised after being trampled. Shoppers stepping over people in the throes of a heart attack. Gunfights at dawn in the parking lot. Retailers in the US and UK could be forgiven for a few nerves ahead of Black Friday on November 27.
Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in the US, and signals the start of the Christmas shopping season. Investopedia says the reference to “black” is not intended to be sinister, but instead refers to the day’s profitability for retailers, who would traditionally see the surge in sales push their margins back into the black as customers attracted by deep discounts shopped until they dropped.
The day is a major sale event. US promotional website Black Friday, which aggregates Black Friday deals, has estimated that total sales numbers will eclipse $80 billion, with well over 300 million people shopping.
In recent years, Black Friday has also acquired an ecommerce-era counterpart, Cyber Monday. Cate Bryant runs a website aggregating deals for a similar Kiwi one-day event called Click Monday, which this year occurred on November 22.
Bryant says the sale generated over 100,000 user sessions during the 24 hours the sale ran. She reports that some participating retailers have called it their biggest online sales day ever.
The sales tactics used by US retailers on Black Friday have been known to cause outrageous behaviour. Every terrible event mentioned in the above list has really happened, most more than once, but garden-variety pushing and shoving is much more common as customers fight to retain their spots in overnight queues and race to grab “door-crasher” sale items.
A website called Black Friday Death Count has attributed seven deaths and 98 injuries since 2006 to the event. For a little glimpse of the worst of humanity, here’s a compliation of Black Friday stampedes.
The UK isn’t immune from Black Friday psychosis. According to the BBC, police were called to seven different Tesco supermarkets in Manchester during Black Friday last year. The police described the scenes in store, which involved three arrests and a woman hit by a falling television, as “totally predictable” and signalled diappointment at Tesco’s shop security. Reetailers also needed police assistance at Dundee, Glasgow, Cardiff and London.
British booksellers have this year rebelled against the chaotic day, which this year is expected to push consumer spending to £1.07 billion. The Booksellers Association has encouraged its members to host a ‘Civilised Saturday’ on November 28 – it suggests booksellers could serve bubbly and cake while playing classical music.
Lesslie Oliver from The Bookworm in Selkirk spoke about to The Bookseller: “Last year Black Friday was all a little bit bonkers, wasn’t it? I don’t think the Black Friday proposition – everything sold at a huge discount – is really the right proposition for books and book lovers. I think Civilised Saturday works much better for bookshops and our customers. I think it is a lovely idea.”
US outdoor gear retailer REI has also attracted attention for its anti-Black Friday backlash. Instead of holding a sale, all 143 REI stores will close on Black Friday in a campaign titled ‘#optoutside’. As part of their campaign, REI’s staff will all spend a paid day enjoying nature with their families… at least, that’s what they’ll tell their supervisors.