What Are Black Friday Sales Doing In A Country With No Thanksgiving?

we are not amused


The first observers of Thanksgiving, history tells us, were British subjects. But in the Plymouth Colony, not the mother country.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland does not celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving. But for some reason, that’s not stopping them from having post-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales. “[R]etailers,” says  a November 27 Advertising Age report, “are doing their best to whip consumers into a U.S.-style frenzy of Christmas shopping before December is even upon us.”

Blame it on those bloody Yanks

Three American companies get the credit, or blame, for this – Apple, Amazon and Walmart, owner of the UK-based Asda retail chain. “Apple and Amazon offer deals in the U.S. and they don’t want their U.K. customers to feel cheated,” Donald Shields, multichannel strategy director at British advertising agency SapientNitro, told Ad Age. “This has obviously come from online – there’s no Thanksgiving and no Friday off to go out shopping – but it’s picking up momentum in stores as well, and translating into a physical retail event.”

Kevin Gill, managing creative director of branding and digital agency Start JG, was less charitable. “It seems a little bit cynical to plug into a U.S. event when we don’t have the event that precedes it,” he groused. “[A]re they going to import Thanksgiving next?”


Halloween and Valentine’s Day, neither indigenous to the British Isles, have also “become key retail events in the U.K.,” Ad Age notes.


British department stores are collaborating with the overseas invaders. Debenhams and Lewis are offering 20 percent off, and Selfridge’s, with a little more stiff-upper-lip British restraint, is having a “Christmas comes early” sale.

Name aside, the latter is still a marked contrast to the standard British practice of marking down merchandise on Super Saturday, a day of panic, last-minute shopping because it’s the last Saturday before Christmas.

Fighting for share

Maybe the fault, dear Britons, lies not with the Americans, but with yourselves.

According to Asda’s October income tracker,

average U.K. discretionary income is falling, thanks to weak wage growth and rising household bills, leaving retailers grasping at every opportunity to persuade customers to shop with them. Early discounts are now becoming the norm — whether you label them Black Friday or not — and digital marketing group RedEye estimates that 43% of shoppers will spend their money before Christmas rather than saving it for the post-Christmas clearance sales this year.

So it just may be that British retailers are latching onto Black Friday as a tactic for capturing a bigger piece of a shrinking pie.

Online spending is up, though, which may be one reason Apple and Amazon are taking the lead. Another is that on Cyber Monday, British consumers have money in their pockets, at least temporarily. Many get paid the last day of the month, and this year at least, November 30 is just two days before Cyber Monday.

Divided opinion

For some U. K. marketers, like Sarah Leccacorvi, client services director at agency Arc, Black Friday’s American origin is a big plus. “There can be a perception in the U.K. that everything is bigger and better and more magical in the U.S.,” she says. “I think Black Friday has the potential to take off here…”

But Richard Perks, director of retail research at Mintel, sees it as a big minus. “The difficulty is that it’s a holiday for most people in the U.S., and here it’s nothing special at all,” he notes. “[T]he sheer fact we don’t have a holiday means there’s no chance to develop it over here. U.S. retailers can be remarkably insular – I can’t see why it should take off.”

In other words, there’s fog in the Atlantic; the continental United States is cut off.


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