/ Shopping, Technology

Black Friday in the UK – cynical cash-in or dazzling discounts?

UK retailers have jumped on the American bandwagon to offer ‘Black Friday’ discounts. Is this just a cynical way to make us spend more money before Christmas, or is any deal a good deal?

Black Friday follows Thanksgiving in the US. It’s traditionally a day of deep discounts, with customers queuing for hours outside stores. Imagine January Sales done Uncle Sam style.

Retailers in the UK, like Amazon, Comet and Curry’s, have started offering their own Black Friday discounts, but do we need another US holiday-cum-shopping event? Deputy tech editor Andy Vandervell and digital producer Rory Boland go head to head.

Against Black Friday in the UK

Andy Vandervell: There are numerous reasons why I dislike Black Friday. First, and most obvious, it has nothing to do with the UK. It’s a US phenomenon linked to Thanksgiving, a holiday we don’t celebrate. Therefore, the idea of having Black Friday deals in the UK is purely an attempt to cash-in on the high-profile shenanigans of our cousins across the deep blue sea.

And it’s not something to be made light of. In 2008 a Walmart employee was trampled on and died as eager shoppers rushed to grab the best deals, and there’s no shortage of other examples of misfortune befalling shoppers due to overcrowding.

Luckily Black Friday in the UK is tame by comparison – at present it’s limited almost exclusively to online retailers, like Amazon. We reserve our real day of madness for Boxing Day.

And that’s the other most salient point – 90% of the Black Friday deals I’ve seen are rubbish. Amazon does better than most, but for every genuine bargain there’s 10 half-baked (sometimes re-baked) ‘deals’ that can be safely ignored.

Comet’s ‘five day frenzy’, meanwhile, seems like anything but. Of the deals I’ve checked throughout the week, few have proven to be noteworthy – many were more expensive or only slightly less than other retailers’ standard prices.

Black Friday is nothing but cynical social engineering. An attempt to convince people that deals are on, when the reality is trivial and mostly pointless.

For Black Friday in the UK

Rory Boland: Who doesn’t like a deal? Apart from Roman Abramovich, the Sultan of Brunei, and Mr Andy Vandervell. Ultimately that’s all Black Friday is about.

Forget complaints about more American imports or vague threats of a US cultural invasion – no one is asking us to dress up as pilgrims, stuff cornbread down our throats and watch men in pads trying to learn rugby. Black Friday is just one big sale.

Anyone familiar with the US version of the event can’t fail to envy the discounts offered. Shoppers are regularly treated to 80% or 90% off some headline products.

Call me a consumerist and capitalist running dog, but if I lived in the US and Best Buy knocked a 42 inch HDTV down from $800 to $200 – which they are – I’d be camped out outside Best Buy in my slippers. HP all-in-one printer for $19? Yes please.

The real problem in the UK is that we’re copying the tradition, but we can’t quite pull it off. While US shoppers get smart phones for a penny, we have to put up with 31% off Geordie Shore DVDs, Famous Five book sets and discount dog food mix.

Nonetheless, there are still loads of great deals around, like a six-month Lovefilm subscription down from £59.94 to £17.50. And it’s not even Black Friday yet, when all the crazy ‘Nintendo Wii for £20’ deals start. Happy Thanksgiving!

So whose argument will you back – Andy’s or Rory’s? Is bringing Black Friday to the UK just a cynical excuse to take our money, or is it full of hefty discounts we can take advantage of?


I’m glad you’ve explained Black Friday. I saw it in Amazon promotions and wondered what it was all about. Generally I support Andy’s line but would feel more inclined towards Rory’s view if the discounts in the UK were actually price-shattering [not that I would queue for any of the stuff he has mentioned or even consider buying it on line]. I don’t like the term Black Friday very much – it sounds too full of foreboding. Obviously, it’s a lure to get people into the stores in the expectation of getting a real bargain and hoping they will buy some other goods as well at normal prices.

Andy’s I’m afraid… and from disappointing past experiences gained
as to these so-called special offers…. yep, a lot of these are ‘rubbish’
anyway that I can happily do without AND for the foreseeable future.

Besides, these are mere invitations to treat, not legally-binding offers
that if disappointed of cannot be remedied by court action.

PeteC says:
24 November 2011

Moan, moan, moan. What’s not to like? If you don’t want the deals, don’t shop. Some of the deals are good, some of the deals aren’t just like at any sale.

I’ve bought some very good stuff on Amazon so I can only say thanks to Black Friday

jchlu says:
25 November 2011

I’d agree with MOST of this apart from one glaring omission – if you’re a fanboy who buys genuine Apple goodies then Black Friday is a proper no nonsense discount day even in the UK, both online and in Apple Stores.
No, I’m not affiliated with Apple in any way, but if you were going to buy their stuff anyway, today is the day to order.

Not with the discounts they are offering today, they are rubbish!

Alan b says:
25 November 2011

I happen to be an Apple fan but even the offers from them are matched by John Lewis without all the razzmatazz and not marketed as “Black Friday” or limited to one day. The other sites that I have noticed advertising “Black Friday” and fabulous discounts for one day only don’t seem to be that fabulous and are for items that are not that exciting (i.e. items that are not selling anyway).

I thought in the UK Black Friday was the name given by police and A nd E Depts for the Friday before Christmas because of all the office parties held on that date and the resulting mayhem from once a year drinking!

Redjet says:
25 November 2011

Sorry, if its an americam culture thing it is most likley to be a negative than a positive. The thing is as I see it is that these ideas are driven by rich people trying to get richer at the expense of those less well off, sure it always seems like a good idea on the surface but what lies beneath, there is always a bigger picture to consider. To just say well its a bargain, whats wrong with that is as niave as the millions of us citizens that follow these type of marketing driven schemes.

I’m in the States, it is Black Friday, I can’t resist a bargain and I’ve just returned from the sales.

Yes, there are some amazing bargains if you want to be one of the first twenty in the queue. These are lost leaders – not real discounts. Designed by retailers to kick off the excitement and spending spree of Christmas. Like the British, Americans complain Christmas starts earlier every year. Autumn in the UK, and Thanksgiving in the US, have merged into Christmas.

Once in the store, you will not find many other real bargains. The retailer has got you with the promise of an amazing bargain but you find its long gone. The retailer does not want you to leave without spending and knows you don’t want to leave with disappointing empty hands. So the most common discounts are buy-one-get-one-free or more likely buy-one-get-another-half-price. That entices you to spend more than you want and cart home more than you need. Not a good idea.

If you want to call that cynical, then yes its cynical. Or you might see it as good free market competition.

On both sides of the ‘pond’, the real bargains come in January, when stores sell off seasonal styles, end of lines, and overstocks. Retailers know customers have less in their pockets after Christmas, so then retailers get out real bargains.

On a side note, be thankful you are in the UK. A few years ago US goods were better quality and cheaper for everything from food to clothing, consumer durables and cars. That has changed. US quality is much the same as before but US prices are now higher than UK prices. That is surprising because US sales costs are much lower than the UK. US shop rents and property taxes are substantially lower, US labour costs are lower. So why are UK retailers cheaper? They are amongst the best and most efficient in the world. Be thankful for UK supermarkets and national retailers – especially the leaders like Tesco.

graham andrews says:
25 November 2011

I didnt know what black friday was ….i was on amazon and there it was…i still had no idea.
Its a sale what a surprise, apart from that, it appears not to be a real sale but a panicky attempt to import a u.s. practise and kick start xmas.
I dont belive 50% off,or 60% off anymore.50% off what??
I dont think any of us are niave enought to beleive the snake oil sellers anymore.However it must suck some people in. It would be good to see 50% off the top 100 footsie directors packages but it wont happen will it and neither will black friday take off unless the shops really do reduce there profit margins. wont happen will it.

Like others on here I kept seeing things about Black Friday, particularly on Amazon and had no idea what it was all about, as it isn’t even the 13th. Eventually I saw on TV this morning that, surprise surprise, it’s an idea from America. Oh dear. If people things it’s great and bag a bargain then that’s just fine, personally it doesn’t interest me. I’ve saved 100% by not buying anything.

John says:
6 December 2011

Black Friday means nothing to me, i have heard it year after year and yet i still cant quite get my head around its meaning. The idea of grabbing bargains is hardly a new one or focused on a 24 hour period of time. Too many people are caught up in the media frenzy to bother to spend the time looking round for the best deal, ultimately missing out on discounts and bargains. By chance i was searching the web for a new dishwasher on saturday and stumbled across Best Buy, i had heard of this American store before but never realised they had outlets here or that they were now closing down. Curiousity led me to take a look at their site and i was delighted to find that all their stock is discounted and marked for sale, not only did i pick up my new dishwasher with a 10% discount, but i was also able to grab some Xbox games for my boys at 25% off. The moral to this story is that sometimes its worth ignoring the hype and panic of the media around christmas and taking the time to look around, often, like i did, you may find all that your looking for, at the best price in one place. Simple!

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26 April 2012

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Vinny says:
28 November 2014

Having purchased a Bosch tumble dryer 2 weeks ago from ‘AO.com’ I was curious to see how much discount (if any) they would be giving for black Friday. To my astonishment the price had actually increased by £200 and then a discount saving of £150 had been applied making the same appliance more expensive. Are companies allowed to do this? Or are we all just being miss led to spend more?

Hi Vinny, the rules on special offers relate to how long the product was displayed at the higher price and in this instance it does sound like rules may have been broken. You can report the example to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) here – http://www.asa.org.uk/Consumers/How-to-complain/Online-Form/Step1.aspx

Our Make Special Offers Special campaign has frequently highlighted dodgy discounts and misleading multi-buys – http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/special-offers and we’re now feeding into The Trading Standard Institute’s review of the rules for special offers.