Black Friday started in the United States in the 1930s as a shopping holiday that falls the day after Thanksgiving. In spite of what you might have read on social media, this day was so named ostensibly because of the traffic snarls that the combination of shopping specials and bad Northern Hemisphere weather would cause (it has nothing to do with slavery.)
There are certain staples of of this day: outrageous deals on products, usually electronics, people lining up for hours before the shops open, the scramble as people fight over TVs and cellphones in shops, the inevitable judgmental headlines that follow when everyone finally goes home...
Nowadays, it is something of a global shopping holiday. South African retailers too have hopped on to the bandwagon, though here the deals are lukewarm to say the least. And we don't even get the benefit of a Thanksgiving dinner the night before. Call us a half-likers of things. We do things by half.
Not China. Oh no. If China is going to celebrate a made-up, consumerist holiday, they are going to do it properly. Enter Single's Day, the world's biggest shopping event. It originated amongst Chinese students in the 1990s, who celebrated and flaunted their single status on 11 November (that date can be written as four ones, or four singles...). In 2009, China's e-commerce giant Alibaba adopted the day as a shopping holiday. In just two years, sales on the day grew from about R88-million spread across 27 retailers, to R8.8-billion spent on Alibaba alone.
Alibaba hosts a glittering show during the festival, complete with celebrity appearances and performances. This year, Kobe Bryant and the Beckhams were the guests of note.
This year, shoppers are estimated to have spent a staggering R250-billion in 24 hours. Alibaba surpassed the R123-billion mark in the first two hours alone, according to The Telegraph. The size of the entire e-commerce market in South Africa was R7.5-billion last year, and is expected to be R9-billion in 2016. The sheer size of this shopping festival is so enormous that it is exerting a gravity pull on markets across the world. According to Forbes, Chinese Americans are turning Single's Day into a shopping holiday that is just as big as Black Friday, meaning many retailers now experience a double sales boost in November.
Single's Day is completely invisible in South Africa, with retailers, led by Walmart-owned outlets like Makro, Game and DionWired still on the Black Friday bandwagon. But it's only a matter of time until 11/11 is a thing here too in the coming years. The size and influence of China will guarantee that.
In the meantime, our Black Friday by comparison will continue to feel just a little bit tiny.