Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. And hitting the sales the day after, on Black Friday, is as American as, well…roast turkey and pumpkin pie. So why has this US celebration of consumption become arguably the planet’s most widely observed retail event, with at least 50-60% of countries taking part?
The global adoption of Black Friday is a relatively recent phenomenon. Black Friday crossed into Canada in 2008, edged into the UK in 2010, and Australia and New Zealand around 2013. Now “Le Black Friday” is even a thing in culturally-protective France (sacré bleu!) As a mark of Black Friday’s worldwide acceptance 13% of global searches for the event now come from Germany and Brazil.
Certainly, Black Friday has been localised a little. In Mexico, a business group invented “El Buen Fin” (The Good End), which runs on the third Monday in November, inspired by Black Friday. In the Middle East, “White Friday” is a more positive spin on the sale, and lasts four days because Friday is a religious day.
One reason for Black Friday’s expansion is globalization, paralleling the rise of social media since the late aughts. Today’s consumer – particularly the Gen Z shopper – is instantly aware of what’s trending at any moment, anywhere on earth.
But while it’s right on the radar of the global citizen shopper, Black Friday is also conveniently placed on the calendar for retailers. (This was entirely intentional. In 1939, President Franklin D Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week from the last Thursday in November – to give shopkeepers an extra seven days of holiday trading.)
By offering incentives to buy in late November, retailers pull sales forward, rewarding shoppers who are prepared to purchase early, and generating sales momentum into the holiday period. Last minute shoppers will buy anyway (they are forced to), and are less likely to be put off by a higher price tag.
In a world increasingly influenced by online shopping, moving sales earlier also helps mitigate last minute issues with delivery.
Like a blot of ink on white paper, Black Friday itself is spreading – not just worldwide, but also month-long. It’s created a kind of Black November, which starts with pre-sales in late October and extends into Cyber Monday – the mega online shopping day on the Monday after Thanksgiving. (Cyber Monday itself has become Cyber Week, so the blurring continues.)
Black Friday is not the only event to break borders. “Singles’ Day” in China began in Nanjing University in the early 90’s, as an “anti-Valentine’s Day,” to celebrate being single. (It was selected because it is marked on the 11th of November, and 11.11 resembles “bare sticks” in Mandarin, or single people). In 2009, e-commerce giant Alibaba turned the day into a 24-hour shopping extravaganza, and today 11.11 is the world’s largest retail event by value.
Just as Black Friday has relegated local retail events like “Boxing Day” to a “second tier sale”, this year’s Singles’ Day will actually overshadow Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, serving one billion shoppers (well over 10% of the earth’s population), with 80 million products featured at sale prices. It is now very firmly on the retail calendar in SE Asia, and is slowly gaining currency in more Western markets – despite the fact that the origins of Singles’ Day were culturally specific.
Halloween, in its modern American incarnation, is also rapidly spreading across the world. Now the second biggest commercial holiday besides Christmas in the US, spending in the UK has more than doubled in the last decade, and in Australia, sales grew 14% this year.
Another smaller example of the globalization of the retail calendar is Amazon Prime Day, which was a US event and now spans 20 markets.
But so far, Black Friday seems to have won out in more places around the world than any other event. So as you gather round the table this Thanksgiving, know that shoppers from Paris, France to Perth, Australia will be giving thanks for their Black Friday deals.