Is Black Friday Really That Awful?

It’s easy to mock people fighting over discounted TV sets when you can afford to pay the full price.

Ahh, the joys of Black Friday. If we need proof of how American culture swamps the rest of the world – or at the very least, the UK – then the relentless push of this very US-centric event into other countries must be it. As I watched re-runs of Frasier this morning while ingesting the daily dose of coffee, I marvelled at how four ads in a row were for Black Friday sales. Usually, it’s nothing but life insurance and charity demands but so relentless was the sales push that I wouldn’t be surprised to see an ad telling us that we could provide clean drinking water to twice as many impoverished kids than usual if we sign up today in a Black Friday charity special. This event is now a fully established part of British culture.

There are now two approaches to Black Friday. Either you are very excited by it, saving your big-ticket purchases for this week in the hope of finding a cut-price bargain, or you loathe it as a capitalist, consumerist nightmare. That the people in the latter group often seem to be posting their objections via the latest iPhone is apparently neither here nor there, apparently – anti-consumerism always seems to be for someone else.

It’s easy to mock the people fighting over big TVs in supermarkets – and frankly, there is no defence for this sort of behaviour, which has led to serious injury and even death, usually for the poor bastards who have to work in those stores and somehow try to deal with a mass of people who are working themselves into a frenzy. But we should remember that these events are the exceptions – that’s why they make the news. Furthermore, you’ll get this sort of extreme behaviour at any mass gathering from time to time – Black Friday shoppers are not exceptions or even unusual.

Why people don’t shop online might seem a mystery, but of course, internet shopping is not something that everyone can do – we tend to forget those for whom internet connections remain unattainable luxuries or incomprehensible witchcraft and who are becoming ever more disenfranchised in a digital, cashless world. I was reminded of this just this morning, as a woman came into the doctor’s waiting room where I was sitting to ask for a prescription renewal because she didn’t have internet access – and this is not a poor area. For various reasons, not everyone can spend hours online leisurely looking for the best prices.

We should understand the motivation here – and it’s not just consumerism. For some, this is their one opportunity to buy the sort of expensive items that are taken for granted by the people who sneer at them. Not just luxuries, as we might consider big HD TVs to be (though again, these are luxuries owned by those who like to sneer at others buying them in sales), but actual essentials. As the cost of living crisis bites ever deeper, it’s easy to understand the motivation to replace washing machines, fridge-freezers and TVs while the prices are reduced. Hell, if our old, broken washing machine had held out for another month, we too would be seeking out a new one at a reduced price. Even for those less essential items – well, a 30 – 40% discount might be the difference between affordable and unaffordable. There are plenty of things that we might like, maybe even need, but which seem generally overpriced for what they are. It’s possible that Black Friday might simply reduce those prices to something that we are prepared to pay.

The main problem that I see with Black Friday is that most retailers have now climbed on the bandwagon without really offering much of a discount. It seems to me that if you are having a sale that you are shouting about from the rooftops, you really ought to be offering more than 5% off the original price. Using a term that suggests massive discounts in order to pull in customers and then charge them much the same price that products were selling for to begin with feels like a con job, really. I get that it is ultimately what Black Friday has become, if not always was for many retailers – sucker people in with a couple of massive discounts that mysteriously sell out almost immediately and then try to sell them expensive items that are barely reduced in price – but it still feels a bit shabby.

I’m sure that for many, Black Friday is just an excuse to buy things that they don’t need. Well, good for them – everyone deserves a few trivial pleasures in their life. Those with vast Blu-ray and record collections alongside subscriptions to several streaming services that they watch on high-end TVs while pedalling away on a Peleton should appreciate that, not scoff at it. People who produce such relatively unessential items as movies and books for profit should also perhaps check their privilege before mocking people who are fighting for their one chance a year to own a new telly.

Look, I’m not saying that fighting over a TV set or determinedly buying for the sake of buying is a good thing. But in these difficult times, anything that promotes the lowering of prices, however minimally and briefly that might be, should be seen – at least in part – as a positive, regardless of the chaotic scenes that might occasionally occur as a result. There’s an ugly class basis surrounding a lot of Black Friday criticism and perhaps people should think a bit more carefully before joining in with elitist pile-ons that are every bit as ugly as any scrap in a low-cost supermarket.

Now, if only broadcasters had the sense to show the Karloff/Lugosi Black Friday on this day… so here it is, free to watch. Now that’s a bargain we can all get behind!


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  1. “It’s easy to mock people fighting over discounted TV sets when you can afford to pay the full price.”

    Disclaimer: The following applies only to the UK. America might do it differently, they usually do with everything else.

    It is when the discounted TVs aren’t actually discounted. It’s amazing how the Sale of Goods Act no longer seems to apply to items in a ‘sale’.

    The SGA is quite explicit about what constitutes a discounted sale price. However if you can be bothered to track the price of a Black Friday deal back to, say, August, it might be noticeable that the Black Friday price isn’t that far removed from the ticket price it was being offered for over a week in mid-September, and again in mid-October.

    Beware the weasel words “will go up to” too.

    I’m not mocking people who can’t afford a new telly. I’m railing against the cynical marketing that’s selling them a new telly.

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