While anything retailers can do to help hard-pressed consumers during the worst cost of living crisis in decades is welcome, there are question marks over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
The first and most obvious one is whether promised discounts are legitimate or if they are being manipulated by retailers anxious to drive footfall and shift old stock ahead of the even busier Christmas weeks ahead.
A recent survey from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission found that two thirds of Irish shoppers do not believe the promises of deep discounts being made this weekend. Such scepticism is not misplaced. Over many years British consumer watchdog Which? has repeatedly found that the vast majority of “discounted” items in this very modern sales window sold for less, or the same price, on multiple occasions before and after Black Friday.
There are also questions about how indigenous retailers have been effectively strong-armed into holding Black Friday sales by multinationals, better equipped to buy in stock specifically for sales and with more to gain by shifting old product lines at whatever the cost. Many small and independent Irish retailers cannot afford such luxury but have little choice but to compete.
Over 50 per cent of the cash spent this weekend will go to online retailers and platforms with a very small or non-existent footprint in this country. While people save money by shopping overseas, this may, ultimately, come at the cost of independent Irish businesses.
There are environmental and ethical concerns too over whether it is justifiable to encourage ever more rampant consumption. Shoppers are, fortunately, ever more aware of sustainability issues, but our understanding of the implications of the green agenda for our consumption habits still has a long way to go.
Hunting for a bargain can be enjoyable – and important with budgets tightening. But when unbelievable bargains are offered, then perhaps they shouldn’t be believed.