a week in wireless

Thank God it’s Friday

Having come over all earnest a week ago The Informer will endeavour to keep things nice and frivolous this time. Today is Black Friday, or so we are told. It derives its name not from the apparent need to get especially drunk on the last Thursday of November, but from the consumer spending frenzy that pushes retailers into profit for the first time in the year.

Inevitably this celebration of stuff originated in the US, where buying things is a competitive sport and the average suburban garage is an Aladdin’s cave of shiny consumer electronics. According to the internet the term originated in Philadelphia in the 60s to describe the exceptionally high traffic immediately after the US Thanksgiving holiday, although Busy Friday or Shopping Friday might perhaps have been more descriptive epithets.

Thanksgiving itself seems to be a rather loosely defined event, apparently initiated by Abraham Lincoln who decided civil war-torn America needed an official day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Abe also seems to have had a role in the conflation of thanking said beneficent Father and turkeys. Indeed he is said to have originated the tradition of pardoning a turkey for some unspecified crime, which seems at best disingenuous given how many others get eaten.

As the use of the term Black Friday spread beyond Philadelphia in the 70s, so did its meaning, eventually arriving at its current definition, which refers to the colour of ink used by accountants to record profits, as opposed to the red used to depict losses. Thanksgiving seems to act as some kind of Pavlovian catalyst for American consumers to buy anything that isn’t nailed down lest their Christmas tree not be drowning in festively-wrapped goodies.

Keenly aware of this trend, American retailers strove to compete for this frenzied custom and took to opening ever-earlier on the Friday morning. By the 2000s it had become the biggest shopping day of the year in the US and the early-opening arms race reached its presumed natural conclusion, with stores opening at midnight. In fact the process continues, with many sales now starting on Thanksgiving itself, prompting the tag ‘Grey Thursday’ (honestly). However some states seem to have invoked obscure religious laws to ensure grubby consumerism doesn’t violate the sanctity of eating and drinking loads, then passing out in front of the American football.

A traditional symbol of Black Friday was the presence of Santa in department stores such as Macys, which was considered a far more efficient way for him to distribute presents than having to break into everyone’s house. Latterly online retailers, feeling left out of all this fervent festive fun, invented their own version of Black Friday called Cyber Monday, although they actually partake in both, of course.

Inevitably, given its success in compelling otherwise savvy American consumers to accumulate shiny things like maniacal magpies, Black Friday has now washed up in Britain’s previously innocent shores. Attempts to access Amazon.co.uk today were frequently met with error messages, presumably as the site buckled under the weight of panicked punters, while Currys.co.uk actually made the Informer queue for 15 minutes before entering retail heaven.

Even that indignity is tolerable when compared to the stampedes and running battles that characterise the bricks-and-mortar Black Friday experience, such as in the video below where the crowd was significantly augmented by the presence of an army of reporters and photographers, themselves jostling for the chance to document the grubby horror of it all.

Over in China they have a similar thing, but just as incongruously associated with a day of the year devoted to being single – a sort of anti-Valentines Day. The most recent Singles Day was earlier this month and Chinese etail giant Alibaba alone managed to shift almost a billion dollars worth of gear, with 43% of those purchases made via mobile devices, dwarfing the best efforts of US shoppers.

Retail frenzy is nothing new, as anyone who remembers footage of the first day of Harrods’ sale in the 80s must acknowledge, but in the smartphone era it has become so easy to spend money and so difficult to avoid being swept along with the tide of voracious bargain-hunters that these retail milestones seem to get bigger every year. On that note the Informer must now sign off before the chance is lost to save a few quid on a massive telly.


Take care.

The Informer

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