IT IS to Americans what Boxing Day has become to us - a rejoinder to the previous day’s festivities in which families converge on the shopping malls rather than spend another hour with their loved ones.
Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, was conceived by US retailers as a way of harnessing their traditional long weekend to kick-start the Christmas rush. Its adoption in Britain has seen queues and even fights for bargains on the shop floor, even though it is a regular working day.
Today, though, shoppers appeared to have seen through the ruse, as staff outnumbered customers in many stores, and a consumer group warned that the advertised bargains could often be had for less at other times of the year.
Which? reported that six out of ten products claimed to have been discounted for Black Friday were actually no cheaper, and in one case a £500 TV advertised at “our lowest price” fell by £4 a week later. In another shop, a coffee machine remained at its Black Friday price for almost the whole of December.
Some shoppers who did brave the early frost in search of today’s promised deals left empty handed, complaining of a lack of choice and a surfeit of bargains.
Ray Soper, 32, said he went on a tour of the main stores in Plymouth but failed to find anything he considered worth buying.
He said: “In previous years you have had to queue for hours. I just think the whole thing has become a bit of a scam, encouraging you to come early when in reality they are just putting out stock they want rid of.
“You can tell by how quiet it is that people have started to wise up to it. I certainly won’t bother coming again.”
In a nearby store, Julia Evans, 27, said the expedition had been “a waste of time”.
“To be honest I wish I had never bothered,” she said.
Nevertheless, the relentless advertising is expected to bring traders some dividends, with Britons forecast to have spent just under £2.6bn in store and online today, eight per cent more than last year.
Trading for the four-day period which ends with the so-called Cyber Monday is predicted to be seven per cent up on 2016, the Centre for Retail Research said.
The Financial Conduct Authority, which analysed a billion bank transactions, concluded that the UK spent more money during the last weekend in November than in any other.
The accountant PwC added that online shopping was overtaking the high street on Black Friday in every age group.
Even among over-65s, it said, 60 per cent planned on shopping by computer instead of in-store. Those under-25 would buy only one item in four in a shop, it said.
Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said: “UK online sales are likely to easily exceed last year’s £1.23bn record.”
Many retailers are opting out of special deals for the weekend, however. In London, Harrods said it was running a small number of “seasonal discounts” but waiting until after Christmas to run bigger sales because it believed that frenzied sales “cheapen the brand”.
Marks and Spencer has also bowed out this year because it believes that instead of increasing sales, discounts merely bring forward Christmas purchases.