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Will Black Friday save SA retailers? Featured

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South Africans have wholeheartedly adopted an American tradition: Black Friday is now the same kind of shopping extravaganza locally as in the US. With reduced prices on everything from household cleaning goods, to cosmetics, to appliances, and even cars, Black Friday has become a retail holiday that all walks of life have started looking forward to.

Will Black Friday save SA retailersThis year’s local Black Friday was such a success that not only did brick and mortar stores see heavy traffic and fantastic sales, but a number of online stores crashed repeatedly trying to deal with the volumes they experienced. Many retailers even extended their special offers throughout the weekend.

The name “Black Friday” is said to have come from the day that marked the start of the Christmas shopping season, when retailers moved “into the black” (make a profit). However, the real story behind Black Friday is a bit more complicated—and darker.

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied to the crash of the U.S. gold market on 24 September 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much gold as they could, hoping to drive the price up and sell for a profit. The scheme ultimately sent the stock market into free-fall.

In the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used “Black Friday” to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city ahead of the big football game held on that Saturday every year. By 1961, Black Friday had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations.

The term didn’t spread across America until much later, and wasn’t in common use even as recently as 1985. Shortly after, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday. Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event, and spawned other retail holidays in the US, including Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday.

In South Africa, 501 stores offered Black Friday deals this year, with discounts up to 70%. Many of these specials were on limited stock, leaving numerous shoppers disappointed when the items they were looking for sold out.

While local retailers desperately needed the boost Black Friday provided, some analysts believe the retail holiday will cause problems further down the line. According to Daniel Isaacs, an analyst at 36One Asset Management, the biggest risk is that Black Friday sales came at the expense of Christmas sales. Last year, he says, people spent their Christmas shopping budget on Black Friday and retailers sat with extra stock.

In light of flagging retail sales and a struggling economy, the jury’s out on whether Black Friday will be the sector’s saving grace for 2017.

Image credit: Copyright: voinsveta / 123RF Stock Photo

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