MWB Article Jan 2015
There’s a great sketch in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ where John Cleese asks ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ Expecting nothing in response he becomes increasingly frustrated when the rebels answer ‘Sanitation!’ ‘Roads!’ ‘Wine!’ and the list goes on. It’s funny because all their accomplishments take the wind from his revolutionary sails.
I’m tempted to ask ‘What have the Americans ever done for us?’ The list would be long. There would be many cries of protest. ‘The Big Mac!’ ‘Chewing gum!’ ‘Elvis!’ ‘Edith Wharton, Scott Fitzgerald and the great American Novel!’ Well, maybe the last is my own highbrow attempt at sophistication. But at the bottom of this list, in it’s own illustrious position of infamy, would be Black Friday.
Whoever thought that importing this concept would be a good idea? Its origin, allegedly, is that it marked the point in the calendar when US retailers moved into profit. Why, then, would you celebrate break-even by discounting to the point of economic suicide and throwing away all margin? This notion is beyond me, like the existence of dark matter, or the point of wasps.
We’re all aware that A/W14 was a very tough season due to the mild weather. Coats, boots, hats: all lingered on our shelves, taunting us with their cosy irrelevance. But rather than throw them on the bonfire of Black Friday, surely it would have been better to trade them at full price in the run up to Christmas, and then discount afterwards?
The scenes of panic buying and animalistic behaviour on our televisions were depressing. Customers fighting each other for vast flat screen TVs that they didn’t need. The result was to bring forward the discretionary Christmas spend to blow on zero margin goods.
The following two weeks trade, normally so busy in the run up to Christmas, were subdued. The consumer was spent, fiscally and emotionally. When all the big groups have finished reporting their Christmas trade, I believe that the true picture will be fascinating, and depressing. As I write this, Andy Street from John Lewis has stated that the pre Christmas week was not their busiest this year; the last week in November was. Asked if he’d do Black Friday again, he was non committal.
My fear is that Christmas trading as we know it may have changed for ever. A consumer, used to ever more visible and year round discounting, will now expect more and more from Black Friday. This may be a drug that will have a very nasty side effect.