Conor Pope’s Black Friday advice: pricey items offer best bargains

Buyers beware: some will get good deals. Many will buy stuff they don’t want and can’t afford

Black Friday did not exist in Ireland less than five years ago but it has now been embraced with so much gusto by so many shoppers and retailers that over €100m is set to be spent before the end of next weekend by shoppers with a keen eye for a bargain.

Black Friday – which falls this year on November 25th – was invented in the 1930s in the US, where it falls on the day after Thanksgiving Day and is the traditional beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Retailers open early and offer bargains and discounts. It has been followed since 2005 by Cyber Monday, the online equivalent.

In recent years, Irish shops have also been offering Black Friday sales. Next Friday, Argos, DID, PC World, Arnotts, Harvey Norman, Marks & Spencer, Argos, Debenhams, Brown Thomas and hundreds of other retailers across the State hope to lure customers through their doors with promises of discounts of anywhere between 20 and more than 50 per cent.

But while many shoppers will probably snag bargains, others will be lured through the doors of shops big and small with the promise of amazing deals, only to leave with stuff they didn’t really want having paid prices they couldn’t really afford.


It might be assumed that retailers love the notion of a multi-million euro uplift in sales but the reality is quite different, and the new sales phenomenon can lead to a significant drop in consumer demand in the run up to Black Friday, as well as a smaller Christmas shopping splurge afterwards.

Lynn Drumgoole of Retail Excellence Ireland, the umbrella group which represents thousands of retailers is not convinced the popularity of Black Friday is a positive development. "Black Friday is an American phenomenon, and in the US it makes perfect sense because it falls during the holiday period. But that is not the case here," she told The Irish Times.

On the day after Thanksgiving in the US, most Americans who do not work in retail have day off.

“One concern we have is that it puts pressure on small businesses in particular. These are businesses who are already coming under pressure as a result of Brexit and a fall in the value of sterling which has led to changes in shopping patterns.”

She said Brexit fallout had seen more people crossing the Border in search of bargains “but much more pronounced is the number who are shopping on UK-based websites. That is having a big impact.”

According to Drumgoole, many consumers expect that there will be significant discounts, and some retailers will not be in a position to offer them. “We have been telling our members that if they are not in a position to offer discounts they should look at whether they can do something special on Friday. It might be something like running a community event or showcasing their expertise in a particular area or highlighting their charity work and their involvement in the local community”.

She said she expected the actual day to be “less manic this year” with more of the shopping being done online.

Certainly other studies back that up. Five times more Irish consumers shop online at midnight or just after on Black Friday, than on any other day of the year, according to research carried out by Littlewoods Ireland. The study, which analysed almost 250,000 online sessions, found that ecommerce revenues have tripled year-on-year as Irish consumers get into the Black Friday shopping habit.

“Black Friday has become a hugely significant shopping event. Our data suggests that the savvy shopper plans their Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping well in advance to get the best online deals,” says Littlewoods spokeswoman Rossa Butler

Policy advisor with the Consumer Association of Ireland Dermott Jewell is unimpressed by Black Friday, at least in Ireland. He pointed to a “world of difference” between the day “as it exists in the United States and as it has come to be in Ireland”.

In America where the day has long been established as a day of deep discounting, “it would seem that the bargains are genuine, but I would be concerned that here the day is more often being used to move stock which hasn’t shifted for a very long time,” he said.

“A lot of prices which grab headlines are loss leaders and have been designed to encourage footfall. People will then be tempted to buy products which are not actually good value for money,” he suggests. “Consumers can be fooled and led to believe they are getting good value when that might not actually be the case.”

Like Drumgoole, he references Brexit and the collapse in sterling in recent months – the currency has lost close to 20 per cent of its value against the euro since Black Friday last year. “I am appalled that the savings that Irish consumers should be benefiting from have not been passed on, and I think a lot of the currency savings will be dressed up as Black Friday deals.

Jewell is right to be sceptical about some so-called deals, and an investigation by British consumer group Which? shows why. The hype around Black Friday creates the impression of prices slashed to historic lows for one day only, but Which? recorded every deal it spotted on Black Friday 2015 on the websites of Amazon, AO, Argos, Currys and John Lewis for 20 popular types of tech gadgets and home appliances.

It tracked prices on these 178 deals every day for the three months before Black Friday and the two after and in that five-month period, Black Friday was only the cheapest or joint-cheapest day to buy the product half of the time (90 out of the 178 deals). And just 8 per cent of the deals were one-day-only offers when Black Friday was cheaper than any other day.

“Shoppers might be surprised to learn that only half of Black Friday deals are actually cheapest on Black Friday,” said the Which? director of Campaigns and Communications Vickie Sheriff. “If you’re thinking about starting your Christmas shopping around Black Friday, do your research as some ‘deals’ may not be all they’re cracked up to be.”

To profit most from this year’s Black Friday, consumers will be best off eschewing cheap-as-chips stock and focusing on bigger-ticket items. That is why electronics retailers are anticipating a big rush over the weekend.

When it comes to clothes, the things to look out for are shoes, coats and handbags. They cost a lot, so the discounts will be worth more. The items will also last longer and be less likely to fall victim to the whims of fashion.

While many retailers will keep their big deals under wraps until Friday, Argos was first out of the traps and has been encouraging customers to beat the Black Friday rush with 13 days of “Black Friday deals” which actually started last Friday and will continue until Sunday.

In the run up to both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) released new research into consumers’ awareness of their rights when buying online.

It found that 51 per cent of consumers are not aware that there is a difference in their rights when buying from an EU website compared with non-EU websites.

EU consumer law, particularly the Consumer Rights Directive, gives consumers in Ireland strong protection so that they can shop online with confidence. However, the CRD only applies to purchases online businesses based within the EU.

As many as a third of those surveyed, did not know that they have the right to simply change their mind and return the goods they purchased. In addition, only 29 per cent correctly identified the length of the 14-day cooling-off period.

“While it is positive to see that there is a high level of awareness among consumers in relation to certain aspects of their rights, in order to get the most from buying online, it is important that all shoppers fully understand what they are entitled to under consumer law, particularly if things go wrong,” said CCPC spokesman Fergal O’Leary.