Opinion – ASDA’s Black Friday U-Turn should get the green light elsewhere
“Cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the dogs of war…”
There are those who say that the words of William Shakespeare still very much resonate with today’s society, and that’s certainly the case with the above line of dialogue. Although Mark Antony’s iconic declaration first appeared in the Bard’s 16th Century tragedy Julius Caesar, anyone who happened to bear witness to ASDA’s colossal Black Friday sale last year might well argue that the phrase “cry ‘havoc'” was as apt a summary as any of the anarchy that transpired in branches of the British supermarket chain across the nation.
In case for some reason you found a better way to spend November 28th, 2014 than nipping down to the nearest ASDA store just to watch the carnage play out, though, let’s recap: in the space of the first eight hours of Black Friday 2014 alone, the company announced sales of 2 million products, with thousands upon thousands of bargain-priced TVs and tablets among them. As if that wasn’t enough to astound, national news outlets like The Telegraph reported that over 15 different stores played host to police forces that day as violence broke out between increasingly ‘passionate’ customers, videos of which then unsurprisingly found their way onto social media, the evening news and the like – much to the amusement of those who’d wisely sought out most of the best offers online rather than venturing into the fray.
Twelve months on, then, and what’s changed? Well, for starters, rather than adopting the “if at first you don’t succeed…” mantra of old, ASDA have quite bravely opted to step out of the Black Friday race altogether, at least for the time being. “Instead,” the chain says on its official website, “We’re investing in a range of fantastic offers, which are available to you in the lead up to Christmas and into the New Year.” Admittedly for those of us based in Islington, the ramifications of this revised approach might seem minimal at best – not least since to find the nearest fully-fledged ASDA store, one would have to travel to Old Kent Road in the Bermondsey area – but the same can’t necessarily be said of some of the subsequent moves which other ex-Black Friday behemoths have made on the retail chessboard
Take Argos – despite still planning to offer a range of exclusive deals today, they’ve spread out many of their major festive offers over the course of the last few Fridays, thus offering customers the comfort of knowing that if they’re preoccupied on the big day (or indeed unwilling to risk being trampled, regardless of how much they’re craving that half-price Xbox One console), they’ll still have ample opportunity to take advantage of their local branch’s most substantial offers of the year in weeks to come. If Argos are indeed intentionally following ASDA’s lead in this respect, then as ‘domino effects’ go, it’s safe to say that a chain of events which prevents the rather startlingly brutal chaos of last year’s supermarket sales from ridding the UK of its dignity once more can only be a reassuring omen on a national level.
That being said, the benefits of this subtle yet potentially seismic refinement of high street retailers and superstores’ Black Friday campaigns could well come to be felt sooner rather than later here in Islington too. Returning to Argos for a moment, one can barely go a mile without coming across one of their branches in this area – the chain has established itself on Old Street, between Farringdon and Chancery Lane as well as in plenty of other nearby locations, and whilst few would deny the advantages of major brands such as this one featuring among the borough’s roster of high street businesses, it’s just as much of a challenge to argue that fledgling independent shops based around here mustn’t struggle whenever Argos lowers the prices of household nicknacks or Christmas stocking fillers for the kids, thus making the prospect of these major franchise players laying off of the Black Friday hype seem incredibly appealing in terms of fuelling the growth of locally-run enterprises.
Indeed, it’ll come as a shock if any of the independently-run food market stalls based on Camden Passage or Brick Lane – to name but a couple of hot-spots – end up complaining that ASDA shouldn’t have made a 180-degree turn, especially if the chain’s decision prompts other nationwide grocery retailers to follow suit as smaller branches of Tesco such as Greenfield’s have according to Twitter users:
No unsightly “Black Friday” scenes for Tesco, Greenfield though they have put a helpful sign up to say sale on in Tesco Oldham!
— Duncan McCorquodale (@NorthernWurzel) November 26, 2015
We’ll almost certainly be covering some of the most scrumptious festive treats available at some of these stalls here at St John’s St in the run-up to Christmas, but suffice to say that if the Big Three – Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA – were to have continued escalating the Black Friday extravaganza going forward, then other up-and-coming chains like Aldi and Lidl might have felt inclined to do the same, all of which could easily have resulted in those Islington-based outlets which offer homemade delights suffering on account of them not being able to offer the oft-ludicrously cheap prices of their corporate competitors, potentially even putting them out of business altogether.
Again, all of this isn’t to say that there’s not room on our streets for these admittedly popular stores to make their presence known via barn-storming deals, yet at the same time, any developments like those discussed above which enable smaller but no less valuable businesses in this area a greater opportunity to thrive, especially at a time of year where such sellers are too often dismissed as stingy when they simply can’t afford to match those lowered prices, should be taken as extremely welcome indeed. Sure, the notion of no longer saving £200 on a new TV every time Black Friday rolls around might seem disheartening at first glance, but if U-turns like ASDA’s are all that it takes to convince us to invest in local commerce and thus keep the smaller businesses which arguably power some sections of the Islington community alive – as well as preventing more needless trampling incidents, of course – then from this writer’s perspective, it’s a sacrifice well worth making.