Okay, start at the beginning: when did this tradition start?
Tradition is an interesting word, isn’t it? Traditionally, for something to be a tradition it had to hang around for a long time, generations or even centuries, but in the hyper-fast world in which we now live something can become as traditionally Christmassy as the three wise men or cribs if it manages to hang around on Twitter or Instagram or in our minds for just a few years. That is why people talk about the “traditional” John Lewis Christmas ad despite the fact that the British department store has been making festively-themed ads for less than 15 years. Although, to be fair to the John Lewis people, they are very, very good indeed at those ads. When we watched this year’s one with the skateboarding man we had something in our eye, honest.
Okay, enough about John Lewis, when did Black Friday become a thing?
The tradition of Black Friday – at least in this part of the world – has been with us for even less time than the John Lewis ads. It has been a thing for a century in the United States and falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving (Friday, November 25th this year), which is always the last Thursday in November. It makes sense in the US because many workers have that Friday off and after being cooped up with their families for a whole 24 hours are itching to be out and about spending money by the Friday. It is – in essence – the US equivalent of Ireland’s St Stephen’s Day.
And why is it called Black Friday?
You can take your pick on this one. It could be because the busiest shopping day of the year – the Friday after Thanksgiving – was the day retailers went from trading at a loss to trading at a profit – or trading in the black. Or maybe the name comes from busy streets being black with people or it could be connected to police in Philadelphia. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica – and who are we to question those fellas – a “more accurate explanation of the term dates back to the early 1960s, when police officers in Philadelphia began using the phrase ‘Black Friday’ to describe the chaos that resulted when large numbers of suburban tourists came into the city to begin their holiday shopping and, in some years, attend Saturday’s annual army-navy football game”. There are also some loose links to a stock market crash in the 1860s.
Okay, it is all very American so what is it doing here?
Blame Walmart. It first arrived in the UK in 2013. Asda, which is owned by the US retail giant, launched a Black Friday sale as a bit of a wheeze. People went mad for it – literally – and started beating each other senseless to get their hands on the cheapest of tellies. Other retailers noticed the bloodshed in aisle seven and – rather than saying “Well, we don’t want riots in our shops or a sale at what is the most wonderful time of the year for people spending money” they said: “We’ll have a bit of that.” A year later loads of retailers copied Asda both in the UK and over here and rolled out their own Black Friday sales and now almost all retailers are at it, many under protest.
Pricewatch has spoken to many retailers over recent years – particularly small independent retailers – and they almost all hate the idea of Black Friday. They also realise that consumers now expect deep discounts over the last weekend in November, which leaves many shops in a bind. Stand firm against it or surrender to customer expectations.
And what about Cyber Monday?
That is actually older than Black Friday, at least over here. It was given life in a press release in 2005. The release came from a US website called shop.org and read: “While traditional retailers will be monitoring store traffic and sales on Black Friday, online retailers have set their sights on something different: Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.”
And was it a big online shopping day?
Not really – and certainly not in this part of the world. It was more wishful thinking on shop.org’s part. But then, as so often happens, it became a self-fulfilling thing. Online retailers soon started recording dramatic spikes in shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving as US workers went back to work after their extended break and started using office broadband and office time to binge-shop. Then deals started to be rolled out and the frenzied shopping spree was stretched out even further.
So when does that spree actually start? The Friday? The Monday?
Are you joking? The Black Friday sales have already started. Some retailers started talking about their Black Friday sales on the first Tuesday in November which – we think – makes a mockery of the whole tradition.
Are you being sarcastic there?
Yes, yes we are.
Okay, well, whatever about the logic or the back story, are there really bargains to be had?
There certainly can be but – as with all sale periods – you should approach the promises made by retailers about the enormous discounts they have on the table with a degree of healthy scepticism. Repeated studies over many years by British consumer watchdog Which? have proved that the vast majority of products advertised as having big discounts over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales period across multiple multi-chain retailers were cheaper either not long before or soon after the weekend in question.
How are retailers misleading consumers?
There are all sorts of ways that can be done. The key trick – if that is not too strong a word – is the use of the recommended retail price (RRP) for discounts on the table. Very often the RRP has little or nothing to do with the price the product sells but by using it as a benchmark retailers can make a product seem more attractive then it really is.
Something can be advertised in 2022 at a price of €500 which a retailer might claim is a discount of 50 per cent even if it cost €1,000 only in 2019. Or maybe something cost €500 for two weeks in August, after which it sold for €400. A retailer might sell it for €300 now and say it “was” €500 – which is true, even if the actual price it had been selling for was €400. It is still a discount but just not as big as it once was.
Am I alone in not liking the sound of that?
You are not alone. Almost two-thirds of Irish consumers do not trust promises of deep discounts in the run-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, with older people far less likely to believe the claims made by retailers than teenagers and those in their early 20s, according to research published by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission last week.
And did the CCPC have anything to say about that? Surely misleading pricing is against the law?
“Misleading advertising is illegal and consumers should be able to trust in advertised discounts,” said CCPC director of communications Gráinne Griffin. She expressed confidence that the upcoming enactment of the European Union price indication directive will tighten up the rules on sales advertising and “empower the CCPC to take enforcement action when businesses mislead consumers through discount advertising. We also encourage businesses to play their part in building consumer confidence by providing clear and transparent pricing history to consumers during sale periods.”
So, does that mean people in Ireland won’t be shopping in the sales?
Not at all. Despite a degree of mistrust about the sales patter, more than a third of shoppers still plan to go bargain hunting next weekend. The average spend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers is almost €400, according to the CCPC. And despite the low levels of trust in discounts, they still play a significant role when shoppers are deciding to make a purchase, with 23 per cent saying the discount was the most important factor and 61 per cent saying the level of discount would influence their decision to some extent.
And what are people likely to buy?
According to the CCPC, 46 per cent of consumers intending to buy in the November sales will be looking for electronics, with laptop or tablets the most popular items, followed by mobile phones and televisions. Clothes, shows and jewellery are likely to be the next most sought-after items.
What can I do to avoid paying over the odds?
Research. Research. Research. Don’t just believe what the top-line ads are saying. Google the product you want to buy, find out how much it is selling for across multiple outlets and then decide if the promised discount stacks up. Then make your decision as to whether or not you must buy it.
And does it matter what sites I shop on?
Massively. For starters if you buy from Irish websites and shops, places that have a deep footprint in this country, then you will be supporting local jobs and local communities as well as boosting the coffers of the taxman – who can then use the money to support local services such as health and education. In contrast, if you buy from sites based in other countries your money is effectively being sucked out of this country, never to be seen again. And if you must buy from overseas, try to buy from within the EU.
Why is that?
Because EU law gives online shoppers significant and more easily enforceable rights when it comes to returns and faulty products. “Our advice to consumers who are planning on purchasing is that they have stronger consumer rights when they buy from an EU website,” the CCPC’s Griffin said. She also reminded people that a ‘.ie’ domain is “not a guarantee that a company is based in Ireland”.
What? I thought all .ie sites were Irish?
Not even remotely. Many international traders who want to do business in Ireland buy a .ie address but that does not mean they are based here. The only way to establish the whereabouts of a company is to find the physical address – hiding in the “about us” or “contact us” section. If you can’t find that physical address that might give you pause for thought.
What rights do I have then?
If you buy something online and it is faulty, you have exactly the same rights as if you bought it in a shop within the scope of EU law, an online seller must give you specific information, including the price, any taxes that may fall due, delivery costs and details of what to do if you change your mind. You also have a cooling-off period of at least 14 days, starting from the date you receive the order. Before the end of the 14 days, an order can be cancelled and the item returned. Crucially, during this cooling-off period you can return the item for any reason. But if you cancel the order because you change your mind, you may have to pay for the cost of returning it.
You also have extra rights if your goods are not delivered on time. Generally speaking, online retailers have 30 days to get your stuff to you unless you agree otherwise. It is important to remember, however, that these rights apply only to transactions that happen within the EU.
So how will I find a bargain?
First off you need to follow the golden rule: something is a bargain only if you need the product in question, the discount is real and you can afford it. If you can answer those three questions then by all means buy the TV, laptop, washing machine or suit of shimmering gold that is selling at a 50 per cent discount. It may have been cheaper in the summer sales or may well be cheaper in the winter sales, which are less than six weeks away, but buying it over the Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales period at a discount probably makes more sense then buying it outside of a sale period. But if you don’t need the product or if the discount seems dodgy or if you can’t afford it then the promise of a bargain is illusory.
And where will I find bargains?
Many retailers like to keep their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals under wraps until very close to the time and then do a big reveal. Others drip feed deals over days to get the best bang for their buck. But here’s a tip for when you doing your shopping. Google “Cyber Monday” and “promo code” and the brand or site you want to shop on and see how you get on.
And all deals are legit, are they?
No. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. So, if you find a brand-new fancy telly selling for €50 it is either a fake or it will never arrive. And be very wary of emails offering once-in-a-lifetime bargains with a single click. You might be saving time by clicking on links in an email but it could cost you a fortune because criminals are very good at dressing up bogus websites to look like the real deal. The best way to prevent bad things happening is always make sure to type your online retailer of choice’s website address into your browser rather than following embedded links. It may take a few seconds longer but you might be better off in the long run. Oh, and always look out for the padlock icon at the bottom of the browser frame when making a payment online.