Black Friday is an artificial marketing stunt with zero relevance for UK shoppers

Perhaps with the exception of The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), not many brands would go out of their way to be associated with violent rioting, writes Warren Johnson

Perhaps with the exception of The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), not many brands would go out of their way to be associated with violent rioting.

Kudos to Asda then for breaking with the Black Friday ‘tradition’ that’s done little for British retail therapy since it was recently imported from the US.

While Asda’s decision to eschew the infamous Black Friday brawls is to be commended, the grocer is still offering heavy discounts totalling £26m throughout the festive period. Perhaps the more significant news, then, is British fashion retailer Jigsaw’s decision to boycott the event – but for an altogether more sophisticated reason. Because, according to its manifesto, its products stand for something.

Black Friday invites people to buy en masse without a real understanding of why, so it’s difficult to see long-term value for brands. Congratulations to Jigsaw for taking note and choosing to preserve the "true value" of its products.

Retailers must also recognise that some customers are more valuable than others, and therefore focus on marketing to and rewarding these individuals, rather than wasting money on a single event to appease the masses; slashing prices on thousands of TVs is never going to build customer loyalty.

This focus is increasingly important for bricks and mortar retailers who should prioritise creating real experiences rather than cave in to mass discounting, which is a game they will only lose to their online rivals like Amazon. (Incidentally, the internet giant has jump-started its holiday discounts a week early this year, with Wired seeing it as an "ingenious scheme to undermine Black Friday". Perhaps.)

Effective alternative

Instead of following the traditional Black Friday deals model, companies should be looking for innovative and creative ways to bolster their relationship with customers – valuable customers – during the holiday season. Apple, for example, has famously offered Black Friday gift cards instead of discounts on its products – encouraging purchases in a way that doesn’t devalue the brand.

I’d argue that it’s less a matter of abandoning Black Friday and more of switching to a more effective and sustainable alternative that sparks excitement.

As it stands, Black Friday is an entirely artificial marketer’s construct, relating to a specific date in the US calendar, which has zero relevance this side of the Atlantic.

I’d like to see a British retailer rebrand Black Friday as a fresh retail concept that still results in a concentrated period of official Christmas shopping, but also has cultural significance for the UK and its businesses.

UK marketers have already successfully generated a buzz around the retailers’ Christmas ads - so why borrow an American concept? They should nurture that anticipation and invest similar efforts into creating the same buzz around Christmas spending.

While the idea of officially 'firing a starting gun' and creating a moment for Christmas retail theatre to take off and draw consumers in is great in principle, it needs to be meaningful.

Ultimately, building brand value and winning sustainable loyalty through a smarter, more strategic approach is the right kind of victory come Christmas, and relying on Black Friday - the event which has become synonymous with gratuitous spending - will only become a bleaker reality for the majority of retailers hoping to cash in this Christmas.

Warren Johnson is the chief executive and founder of W Communications

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