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Black Friday fever hit the globe this weekend and Australia wasn’t immune. But is Christmas shopping madness really such a terrible thing?
Australian shoppers have been bombarded with sales this weekend as “Black Friday” frenzy hit the globe. Traditionally an American thing, Black Friday is always the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s the day that ordinary, well-behaved citizens go berserk, camping outside stores for hours then charging in at 9am like a bull on a meth hit, pummelling everyone – from young children to the elderly – out of the way in an attempt at a bargain.
In other words, it’s a lovely, festive way to herald the official start of the Christmas shopping season.
In Australia, Black Friday has never really been a thing. Until recently. We don’t do Thanksgiving, so should we really be doing Black Friday?
This was the discussion happening in one of the (many) Facebook groups I am a part of. Full disclosure: I love a Facebook group. I am a Facebook group-ie. I use Facebook more to find out what home remedy best repels the pesky pantry moth (via groups like “Mums who clean”) than I do to check in with my own mates these days. As the mother of a young child, most of my groups are parenting or lifestyle related, and many of the members are small business owners, start-ups or women on maternity leave. And all of them are preoccupied with silly season gift giving.
I must have seen half a dozen posts asking group members to add links to any online shops participating in Black Friday sales. And on every single one, in amongst the hundreds or so people posting links to their businesses big and small, offering discounts or vouchers or festive perks, there was always someone whinging about how Black Friday was an American tradition and we shouldn’t be partaking in it; that it was the latest example of how “obsessed” we are with the US…that our local culture is dying and we are becoming nothing more than a nation of greedy “consumer whores”. (Yes, really. Those were her words.)
It got me thinking: are they right? After all, we have our own sickening shopping tradition that is as Australian as pavlova – the Boxing Day Sales – so it’s not like we’re new to the whole mindless consumerism thing. Is it just the name that puts people off? Would the grumbling dissenters in my Facebook groups have less of an issue if it was just called a “Pre-Christmas Sale” so that it didn’t make you think of middle Americans loading up their SUVs with three shopping trolleys’ worth of cheap televisions, discounted cosmetics and half-priced luggage? Or is this Black Friday furore just another example of people getting worked up over nothing? It’s easy to hate on America, especially with the Orange Man in the White House. It’s easy to whine that our culture is being stomped on by a powerful bully, but usually, those people whining are the same ones happily tucking into the buttermilk fried chicken they ordered from Uber Eats. There are very real concerns with Americanisation when it comes to local content deals – especially within our creative industries – and there is absolutely a case to be made that local stories aren’t being told because people don’t pay to listen – or watch – or read something local when there’s an American blockbuster on offer – but this isn’t that. It’s the Christmas shopping season in over half the countries around the world. Isn’t it just good sense, both as a business and as a consumer, to jump on board a train that is well and truly out of the station?
They were chuffed at not only the difference this would make to their own Christmas, but at how their community had rallied behind them, determined to keep them afloat in a sea of global high-street competition.
Yes, Australia is perhaps more Americanised than ever before. I’ve never in my life seen so many Aussie houses bedecked in spiderwebs and pumpkins than I did this Halloween. And there is certainly no shortage of southern fried chicken joints opening up in hipster enclaves in every city in the country. But there are also more dumpling bars, schnitzel houses, Lebanese restaurants and Japanese teppanyaki haunts than ever before. Our cities are all becoming more global, and this is in no way a bad thing. And a global event like Black Friday doesn’t have to hurt locally. Quite the contrary. From what I can gather from the Facebook community, Black Friday seemed more than anything, a fabulous opportunity for small, online businesses to shine – businesses keen to capitalise on a market that was in shopping mode in a hope that a good experience and a hefty discount would get a repeat customer happy to pay full-price next time for a product they loved.
Ninety percent of the small businesses who responded to the original posts seemed excited for the sales rather than resentful they were being forced to discount in a local marketplace driven by what was happening on the other side of the world. What could easily be dismissed as consumerism at its ugliest seemed the exact opposite: brands excited to hear about other brands, consumers backing businesses trying to make a go of it and a dedication to shop small and to shop local.
Far from the stereotype of crazies with credit cards in a fight to the death for a cheap cardigan, Black Friday was a chance to make a point with your shopping; to grab a deal, yes, but to understand there was more to the season than that. It was about supporting the people behind the goods, about knowing the name of the lady who makes witty, engraved bangles that would be just perfect for your sister-in-law, or clicking on a link to a store and finding a story about why the owners started designing custom-made trikes after their infant son lost a leg in an accident and couldn’t ride a regular one. It was about discovering what amazing people are out there: innovative thinkers and master craftsmen and women, creating unique and awesome products with skill and love. And about choosing these people, whose businesses are their livelihood, to supply the gifts that will sit under your tree on Christmas morning.
Scrolling my feed last night, the results spoke for themselves: dozens of small businesses posting “thank you’s”, ecstatic at their weekend earnings and at the connections – local and around the world – the increased exposure had given them the last few days. They were chuffed at not only the difference this would make to their own Christmas, but at how their community had rallied behind them, determined to keep them afloat in a sea of global high-street competition.
Globalisation is here to stay. So is commercialism. Not everything about either is bad. We might as well celebrate the good.