People love to hate it, and yet it's hard not to enjoy finding something you've wanted to buy at half price, and just before Christmas too. Considering the videos depicting sheer chaos, and the record of violent activity, that herald this international bargain festival, it's astonishing to believe that it's now accepted as another date on the calendar - but How does it work? Who takes part? and What does it mean beyond bargains?
The first thing to keep in mind, is that a discount is a marketing tool - an incentive for shoppers to come to your store - and ultimately no discount aims to lose money. There can be discounts that come close to being loss leaders, selling products at a greatly reduced price that oblige the customer to return (think coffee machines here), or bundling products so as to seem to offer products for free. In the riskiest cases, it's likely that the retailer, and manufacturer, are still breaking even although they are waiving the profit in favour of publicity and new customers. It's a gamble that large retailers can play by leveraging their buying power to convince manufacturers to give them discounts and give them a massive advantage over smaller retailers, and they can do it all without breaking a sweat.
It's a very different story for small and independent retailers who lack the buying power of international businesses. These shops and stores offer customers a very different shopping experience, and a range of products from other small businesses. This is the risk they have taken, with the hope that customers will enjoy their choices, and it's one that plays an important role in fostering businesses like mine. Unlike the deals negotiated around the mass production of goods generally available during Black Friday, a reduction in price of products for independent retailers is a direct reduction in income for those involved.
As a manufacturer myself, I enjoy being able to pass on discounts to my customers through my online shop - it's something I can afford to do and I like to think that it makes my products even more accessible than they previously might have been. On a larger scale however I'm concerned by the influence Black Friday has internationally in encouraging people to buy. Discounts have become the norm, and as major low cost retailers in cities like Cork start to expand into mega-stores it's starting to seem that marketing has seized the market. We are encouraged towards the new and expensive with little regard to where these things come from or will go to - and it's getting increasingly hard to discern these things.
Undoubtably the responsibility lies with us all as consumers in what and where we buy. "It's not a good deal if you don't need it" is part of Greenpeace's Black Friday message, and it rings true in a world where throwing things away is causing major problems.
This isn't a call to not buy things that you want, but a reminder that a TV, phone or an independently made and beautifully designed table lamp, are not just for Christmas, or even 2018. These are things that we should be able to live with for a long time, if not a life time, and if they're not then perhaps it's best to shelve that Friday feeling.