Black Friday 2017: The good the bad and the ugly

Ujuh Correspondent

Black Friday, an American concept where traders slash prices on the day after Thanks Giving Thursday, has taken off in South Africa in a big way. The clamouring for reduced prices on the 24th of November is billed to be even bigger this year.

The development is taken as good news by many if the consumer scramble is anything to go by. But some observers are sceptical about the value coming out of the #Black Friday movement. Others think it’s actually regressive.

It’s taken about five years for the concept to get entrenched. Shoprite/Checkers, the largest retailer on the African continent, claims to have brought the concept to South Africa.
Shoprite explains that “The Black Friday trend had been gaining popularity around the world, and in 2014 Checkers became the first food retailer to introduce the Black Friday concept to South Africa to kick off the Christmas sales season.
“Subsequently our competitors have followed and the world’s biggest sales promotion is now not only something that South African consumers want, but one they’ve certainly come to expect from retailers.”

Indeed, many more South African retailers have been hopping onto the #Black Friday craze over the past five years. Judging by the response we got from retailers, the 2017 edition of South Africa’s Black Friday will reach block buster levels.

Brian Leroni, Group Corporate Affairs Executive at Massmart, notes that some units in the group have been running Black Friday promotions for the past three years. These include, Builders, Makro, Game and Dion Wired.
Asked what Massmart has for the 2017 Black Friday edition, Leroni said “Consumers can generally expect incredibly competitive prices and value on selected high demand or aspirational products.
“Our Black Friday sales are amongst the highest in our annual promotional calendar, because of the exceptionally attractive value proposition associated with the promotion.”

Other retailers like Truworths and Edcon also indicated that they are lining up more promotions this year.
An Edcon spokesperson said Black Friday is one of the most exciting and important promotional activities for Edcon’s various chain stores. This is after last year’s experience where Black Friday became a “great success for Edcon.”
Edcon notes that “Last year’s Black Friday was recorded as one of our largest trading days for 2016, which surpassed our expectations.”

It’s not everyone who thinks the explosion of Black Friday in South Africa is a great idea. It’s been criticised by cultural police as entrenchment of American culture in South Africa. A survey on social media commentary reveals some deep seated uncomfortability with the Black Friday idea. Some of it feeds into and from fake news like the claim that Black Friday originated in slave trading activity. This untruth has caused sparse calls for boycotting of Black Friday.

A more sober critique of Black Friday is informed by concerns that it comes to entrench consumerism in South Africa and the attended consumer indebtedness.

There is also a view that Black Friday is merely stealing from the traditional Christmas spending.
Stephan Le Roux, Divisional Director – Retail Portfolio at Growthpoint Properties notes that “We have seen a significant increase in foot counts during the Black Friday with a spike in retail spend. However, it seems that this spending in November is mainly a situation of consumers bringing their usual festive season shopping forward. As such, it impacts on December sales.

“Notwithstanding, it indicates the consumer’s focus on value and discounts where consumers will go to great lengths and inconvenience to secure heavily discounted transactions.
“Given the current constraints on the consumer, we believe 2017 Black Friday will generate even higher trade, assuming retailers will be prepared to participate on a broad scale.”

Stephan Le Roux, Divisional Director – Retail Portfolio at Growthpoint Properties continues has an interesting view. He says “The participation of South African retailers in the Black Friday promotion is largely limited to national retailers. Shoprite Checkers has been the most aggressive in this promotion with other retailers such as GAME being very specific in heavily discounting a few lines.”

He continues “We have seen a significant increase in foot counts during the Black Friday with a spike in retail spend. However, it seems that this spending in November is mainly a situation of consumers bringing their usual festive season shopping forward. As such, it impacts on December sales.
“Notwithstanding, it indicates the consumer’s focus on value and discounts where consumers will go to great lengths and inconvenience to secure heavily discounted transactions.
“Given the current constraints on the consumer, we believe 2017 Black Friday will generate even higher trade, assuming retailers will be prepared to participate on a broad scale.”

Nashil Chotoki, Retail Asset Manager at Redefine Properties, echoes more or less the same views.
“Given the current economic environment, South African consumers are cash strapped and remain largely focused on value purchasing, Black Friday is the ultimate leverage that gives retailers the opportunity to provide value to bargain chasing consumers,” says Chotoki.
But he notes an “unintended consequence”. Black Friday, says Chotoki, has had a disruptive impact on the traditional festive spending patterns. “Savvy consumers plan their Christmas shopping around Black Friday and Cyber Monday for best value.”
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