Everything you need to know about Black Friday – and the alternatives

What is Black Friday, when did it weasel its way across to the UK, which retailers are taking part this year – and is it even worth your time?

Apart from grown adults fighting over flat-screen TVs, what exactly is Black Friday?

Until last year, as far as anyone in this country was aware, it was the last Friday before Christmas. The day when all office workers would head to the pub straight after work and get well and truly plastered, celebrating their last shift before the freedom of the holidays. It was officially the most drunken day of the year. It was named Black Friday by the pub industry, as it was common for fights to break out due to everyone being inebriated beyond belief.

But, in another step towards one big global economy, the UK has started to take on board our American cousins’ definition of Black Friday: the day after thanksgiving where the masses descend upon slashed price superstores and clamour for cut price TVs. And when we say clamour, we mean fight tooth and nail.

It seems just a bit ironic that the day after Thanksgiving – a day when Americans celebrate what they have to be thankful for – everyone heads out on a mass rampage. To get more stuff.

So why did the UK adopt Black Friday?

Black Friday seemed to make its debut splash last year but it was actually in 2013, brought to our fair isle by supermarket giant ASDA (owned by even bigger US giant Wal-Mart).

Perhaps it took until the second year for word to spread because last year the whole country seemed to get on board with gusto, causing Battle Royale style scenes in Tesco, with people literally clambering over each other to get the biggest gadget, for the cheapest price.

The figures back this up with an estimated £810 million spent last year – more than double than in 2013. Websites crashed and people literally fought in the aisles to get their hands on (sometimes only mildly-reduced) reduced items. The crowd mentality was out in full force.

Have we learned our lesson?

Absolutely not. This year, we are expected to spend £3.49bn over the period of Black Friday to ‘Cyber Monday.’ And more people than ever before are expected to take part.

Is it actually worth it?

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Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis has warned that most Black Friday deals aren’t as unique to that day as people are led to believe, and has suggested that shoppers should always check deals online beforehand.

On top of this, remember that buying something with 50% off is still more expensive than buying nothing at all, if you don’t actually need it.

“Above all, remember, if you don’t want something, don’t need it or can’t afford it, then don’t buy it,” Lewis says.

Richard Headland, editor of the consumer advisory service Which?, said:

“There will be a whole host of deals available on Black Friday but not all of them will be genuine.”

Which? advised shoppers to register for alerts in advance and check prices ahead of the madness, to be aware of which deals are new and which are already available.

Which retailers are taking part this year?

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First of all, the aforementioned ASDA have massively scaled back on deals following the madness of last year. They reported that it’s simply not profitable and merely depresses December sales, as everyone compresses their buying into a couple of days in November. (It seems a little unfair that they brought this mess to us, then ditched us right in the thick of it. Thanks ASDA. Thanks a lot.)

But there are some decent deals to be had, if you’re on the ball.

  • ASOS is offering 20% off of everything this weekend, until Tuesday morning. They’re also offering up to 70% off some of their stock.
  • Debenhams is offering up to 30% off every department,
  • Argos has been running Red, White and Blue Fridays leading up to the big event, as part of its Christmas campaign. The deals will continue this week with £300 off an LG Freeview TV.
  • Boots are offering discounts with the biggest savings to be made on electrical goods.
  • GAME, Currys PC World, eBay, Carphone Warhouse, EE and John Lewis are all offering extra discounts, although most last the whole weekend, and actually several of the deals have been running on the weeks leading up to now. Like Martin Lewis said, you don’t have to buy them tomorrow.
  • Harvey Nichols will be taking 25% off some of their items in the spirit of things.
  • Online giant Amazon also has a raft of deals available. This year it’s also doing a week of limited-time “lightning deals” with new promotions being unveiled every 10 minutes.

I’m still not sold. What are the alternatives?

Civilised Saturday

The Booksellers Association has retaliated to the distinctly uncivilised Black Friday sales with ‘Civilised Saturday’. Describing it as a ‘restorative’ event where bookshops invite customers to spend some relaxing retail time in a calm place while they shop for books. No grabbing allowed.

More than 100 bookshops have signed up so far, with many offering mulled wine, mince pies, and cups of tea while customers shop. Civilised indeed.

Donating not discounting

Clothing retailer Fat Face has decided to donate 10% of net profits to local charities, rather than offer shoppers a discount. This could total £250,000 given to charity. A spokesperson for the brand said: “Cynical discounting is not a sustainable model for UK retail. It leads to a lack of creativity, newness in fashion and joy”.

Fat Face didn’t take part last year either, and have no plans to in the future.

Wild Friday 

The Wild Network have encouraged people to get outdoors into the wild and do something active this Friday, that doesn’t involve battering each other with reduced electrical equipment. Sure, it’s a bit worthy and you may prefer just to read a book or visit a friend, but it’s a nice idea.

White Friday

Just Fair Trade have offered a direct contrast to the day of mayhem with White Friday, saying: “this new shopping phenomenon is compounding a situation in which consumers don’t really understand the value of what they buy and rarely consider the people who make the goods they shop for.”

White Friday is a chance for shoppers to learn more about where the items they’re buying actually come from and donate to buying a rotavator for a rice farmers’ cooperative in Malawi, amongst other things.

More details here.

Main image via South Park