This year, Black Friday appears to be spread over a period of a few weeks, as opposed to just the one Friday. Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency (ANA)
This year, Black Friday appears to be spread over a period of a few weeks, as opposed to just the one Friday. Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency (ANA)

Savings and safety scrutinised this Black Friday

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Nov 24, 2020

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This year, Black Friday appears to be spread over a period of a few weeks, as opposed to just the one Friday. Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency (ANA)

South Africans are gearing up to cash in this Black Friday, despite a strained economy and concerns regarding safety around the annual shopping event.

Following a restricted lockdown period that resulted in increased unemployment numbers and decreased spending, the country’s retailers are banking on a profitable festive season to make a recovery.

On Wednesday, the Retailers' Liaison Committee (RLC) published its latest Consumer Trends Report which indicated a year-on-year 21% drop in retail market sales from March to September.

Members of the RLC include retailers such as Mr Price, Woolworths and The Foschini Group, international retailers such as H&M and Cotton On, and online retailers Takealot and Superbalist.

“Within the context of a contracting economy, and a further 2.2 million South Africans jobless by the second quarter of the year, it is not surprising to note that from June onwards the market contracted by 9%, every month, compared to the same period last year,” said RLC chairperson Shane Butlion.

“Homeware is the only category that has experienced positive growth since June, with every other category trading down on last year.”

People force their way into stores for Black Friday specials in past years. Pictures: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

Last year’s Black Friday was reported to be South Africa’s biggest yet, with BankservAfrica reporting over seven million in-store and online transactions processed, a 36% increase over the previous year, and total consumer spending in the region of R6 billion.

“Having looked at the trends from our report, with overall sales down closely linked to the broader economy, reduced salaries, we recognise our consumers have had to tighten their belts and are under a lot of pressure,” Butlion said.

“What we’ve seen in the market is that retailers are really looking to provide their consumers with value. It’s all about value.”

Retail giant Massmart, whose franchise stores Game and Makro have traditionally attracted waves of people on Black Friday, have resorted to month-long deals instead of restricting them to a 3 to 5-day period.

“This decision is based on our recent research that has shown that Game and Makro are South Africa’s most popular Black Friday shopping destinations and that customers continue to anticipate competitive Black Friday deals, even as they deal with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Mass,art group corporate affairs executive Brian Leroni.

Meanwhile, major retail shopping centres have expected their tenants to abide by Covid-19 restrictions amid a gradual return of customers following the lockdown. Nashil Chotoki, national asset manager for retail at Redefine Properties, who operate Cape Town malls such as Blue Route and Kenilworth Centre, said: “We are already seeing retailers working around this by extending promotions rather than limiting it to just a few days. We expect to see a Black November or even a Black December as retailers go all out to capture the available rands and cents.”

Customers shopping for electronics during Black Friday specials. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

The shopping event has also garnered concerns from the government over health and safety.

On Thursday, MEC of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier called on both businesses and shoppers to adhere to strict Covid-19 safety protocols during Black Friday to avoid creating super-spreader events in the population.

“The Black Friday sales traditionally mark the start of the festive spending season, and this year will be an opportunity for businesses to recover revenue lost during the Covid-19 restrictions. However, we appeal to retail businesses to please implement the necessary health guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19 and ensure that their staff and customers are as safe as possible,” he explained.

Maynier added the Department of Economic Development would be meeting with major retailers and property management companies to discuss risk management strategies and the consequences of not complying with the protocols. “The engagement will include relevant law enforcement agencies who will assist to manage Covid-19 safety compliance,” he said.

Black Friday comes as South Africa’s rate of new Covid-19 cases has surpassed 2 000 per day, prompting concerns that the country could be subjected to lockdown restrictions again going into the festive season. The latest data has also shown an increase in all Cape Town city districts, and it follows a surge in provincial infection rates last week, mostly originating from the Garden Route.

Professor Burtram Fielding, director of research and development at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) said Covid-19 fatigue had set in and it was becoming difficult to convince people to remain isolated. “We need to change our message a bit,” Fielding said.

“If you’re going to places and social distancing is not possible, wear a mask, and more importantly, we need to start encouraging people to stay at home if they're showing symptoms. I’m hearing more and more people are testing positive who were asymptomatic. It boils down more to try to adhere to physical distancing. It’s very unlikely that will happen on Black Friday, so wear a mask and wear a mask properly.”

But that hasn’t stopped shoppers from making plans. For East London musician, Armand Steenkamp, Black Friday is a chance to scoop up much-need audio equipment.

“It’s the one time of year that I am able to afford some of the more expensive plug-ins and studio gear for my little home studio,” he said.

Steenkamp said he planned on making trips to the store while staying mindful of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For the gear I like to go to a store and have hands on the equipment and trying it out before purchasing,” he explained. “I burned my fingers once with buying gear online and what came wasn’t even close to what I had ordered.”

Johannesburg journalist Chanel Retief has planned on making use of Black Friday deals to furnish her new place.

“I need stuff to fill the house and I’m not prepared to pay the same prices I would generally, Black Friday seems like the perfect excuse to buy big things like a TV, couches and tables,” she explained.

Retief added that physically seeing the products before buying them was important.

“If it’s furniture I want to see what I’m buying,” she said. “For other stuff, I will buy online.”

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