Voices: Could Black Friday be a good thing, this year?

Is it time to be thankful for Black Friday? You can make a case – and some have – that a festival of cut price “deals” could prove invaluable to struggling consumers looking towards Christmas with varying degrees of trepidation.

So, does Black Friday provide a much-needed chance to salvage something from the wreckage of the cost of living crisis?

Well, yes and no. For full disclosure: I have to admit I feel slightly dirty writing positively about what is, in my opinion, the worst American import since The Jerry Springer Show.

That’s because Black Friday has always seems to me a fairly tasteless extravaganza; consumerism at its worst. That was true even when the economy was chugging forward (and don’t get me started on the environmental impact).

Now, though? I can’t help feeling that while it’s true we’re all struggling (and some certainly more than others), and cut-price deals might make an otherwise-unattainable Christmas gift somewhat more attainable; Black Friday still feels a little like the bloke who tries to pick the pocket of a mother coming out of a food bank with a pair of Aldi carrier bags in the hope of feeding her kids.

Budget conscious bargain-hunters should pay close attention to Which? – the consumer group found that only one in seven (14 per cent) of the 214 Black Friday deals it analysed from last year’s event offered “a genuine discount”.

The vast majority of the promotions, it said, were on products that were cheaper or the same price in the six months prior to the event. The retailers it looked at were Amazon, AO, Argos, Currys, John Lewis, Richer Sounds and Very. Their prices were logged every day in the six months before and after the sale date – November 26.

Check that list again. It torpedoes another potential Black Friday defence: the one that retailers are under the cosh and they, and especially the people they employ, need the boost this will provide them with.

There are some highly successful retailers on the Which? roster; companies which will emerge in decent shape when the light at the end of the long recessionary tunnel finally appears.

In the meantime, those retailers (and others) are going to saturate the TV and the internet with ads. This may have dire consequences, especially with the boom in buy now pay later (BNPL) services the government (still) hasn’t gotten around to allowing the Financial Conduct Authority to properly regulate.

This is the Klarna Christmas. BNPL allows people to put off the day of reckoning. But only for a short time. It always comes.

These services can convince shoppers to spend more, until the gas bill comes in alongside a demand for the first of those three monthly instalments. I would not want to be working for a debt charity in the New Year. Their business will be booming, but not in a way counsellors would welcome.

Black Friday is a spending fest. We buy in because we’re suckers for deals. It feels good to get a bargain, to think of the money we’ve saved. But even if we hit on one of the all bonafide offers, have we actually saved any money? Or is it that we’ve splashed out on stuff that we didn’t need – or that our loved ones didn’t want?

That’s the question, isn’t it? I’m not being pious here. Far from it. I’ve been sucked in too. The bargains! The bargains, the bargains, the bargains: “We’ll make Christmas cheaper for you. Look at what you’ve saved, you savvy shopper you. You’ve done so well we’ll have to put your picture up at the tills. Don’t let this guy in! He’s too smart for us.”

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

“It’s likely many will be trying to be more savvy when shopping online, says Which? citing the cost of living crisis. “Do your research,” it urges. Make a list of what you want, check multiple retailers, don’t buy on impulse.” Yes, yes and thrice yes.

It really would serve us all to kick Black Friday back across the Atlantic. There are even retailers who would approve. There is a feeling of “damned if you do damned if you don’t”. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Best to avoid the thing if you can. It’s a bit like Twitter: taking a holiday from it feels surprisingly good. If you can’t? Put the work in. It is hard work indeed to make Black Friday work. But I guess it can be done.