Black Friday bargains — and brawls — aren't just for Americans anymore

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World.


[Audio excerpt of crowd shouting]


Werman: Shoppers storming into a store, elbows flying, trying to get the best deals on this Black Friday. Not here, nope. That’s in London. Kind of reminds me of this.


[Audio excerpt from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”]


Werman: Hysteria in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” For my producer Andrea, it’s more like the stampede in “The Lion King.”


[Audio excerpt from “The Lion King”]


Werman: For my BBC colleague Adam Kirtley though, it’s no movie. It’s what really happened in front of him at a major retail outlet near London’s Wembley Stadium.


Adam Kirtley: Well, you know, they play American football at Wembley now, the NFL, and quite honestly I want some of that American football kit, with all its padding.


Werman: Instead of “Friday Night Lights” though, it was Black Friday madness in London today. But when you think about it, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, because other countries don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so the day after is just another friday, only now with deep discounts. Here’s Adam Kirtley outside that London store again.


Kirtley: It was a scrum when the doors opened at 8AM UK time. There were crowds of people waiting to get in, queueing into the car park. I guess many of them had queued most of the night. When the doors opened for Black Friday here, with 70% off widescreen TVs, etc., the scrum was amazing. It was like that bull run in Pamplona in Spain. They ran in, almost falling over each other. It was chaotic, to be honest. They ran down the one aisle selected for Black Friday, grabbing boxes of this, grabbing boxes of that. It was that sort of basic animal instinct of “I may miss out,” of penguins at feeding time at the zoo. To be serious though, it got a little bit nasty at one point, where people were pushing each other over, fighting over boxes and a big pile of widescreen TV boxes almost fell over and we journalists retreated a little bit down a corridor for our own safety.


Werman: It sounds kind of nasty. I saw these pictures posted at Asda, which is actually owned by Walmart we should say, of so-called “flat screen fanatics.” Aside from the latest, cheapest LCD TV, what else has gotten people to the stores?


Kirtley: It has to be said in Walmart and Asda’s defense that this store, which is what the pictures will be from that you see, this store I’m sitting in now, never attracted so much violence for the police to come. There have been some other supermarkets where the police were called to break up fights, etc. But it wasn’t just widescreen TVs, although they all shifted, they’ve all gone. There was a big pallet piled high with microwaves this morning when I got here, taller than me and several deep -- the last one of those went by 11 this morning. Funnily enough, the weirdest thing that’s been really popular here are powerwashers. You plug it into the mains and you get a jet of water that you can clean your driveway with. They seem to have been very popular for some reason.


Werman: Was there any version of Black Friday before Black Friday?


Kirtley: This is about its third year in the UK but this is the biggest by far. Walmart lay claim to bringing it over to the UK, but so does Amazon. Amazon said that it brought it over here three years ago because British online shoppers had spotted bargains in the US on Black Friday that they weren’t getting here. I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but whoever brought it over, it’s certainly caught on. Black Friday here is this new phenomenon in the last two or three years, which this year has gone absolutely ballistic.


Werman: Will this American Black Friday supplant the very British Boxing Day?


Kirtley: It’s all to do with stock. If Christmas goes well and Black Friday has helped kick start that, then obviously I guess the Boxing Day sales won’t have as much stock to sell. If, however, people do this -- and don’t forget, however busy this is, it’s still a small portion of the British population at 70 million -- if Christmas is a bit of damp squib this year, and we don’t know that for the next three or four weeks yet, but if it is a damp squib, there will be lots of stock to sell on Boxing Day and into the New Year. But we don’t know the answer to that yet.


Werman: That was the BBC’s Adam Kirtley watching the mayhem in London. Let’s turn to Toronto where the CBC’s Linda Ward also checked out the Black Friday trend. Adam Kirtley compared the scene there to a football game. So, did you go to a sale and a hockey match broke out?


Linda Ward: I think it’s a little bit more tame here in Toronto. I’m at one of the busiest malls, Toronto Eaton Centre right in the heart of downtown Toronto, and I’ve been told that they’re expecting more than 270,000 people here today, but so far everybody has been well-behaved, although I did hear from one retailer who said they had a bit of run on peppermint bark, if you’ll believe it, and they got a little bit nervous, but they do have quite a bit of stock so everybody was calm and collected. The Canadians tend to be a little bit polite about this kind of thing. They take it in stride, although the mall is very, very packed and people are tripping all over each other as they walk around here. But generally everybody has been really well-mannered.


Werman: Well, one city’s peppermint bark is another city’s flat screen TV. When did this Black Friday trend start in Canada?


Ward: Black Friday really started to take hold in Canada in about 2010, and we saw over the last few years the sales go up, we’ve seen more Canadians stay here at home. Of course, being so close to the US border, there is still that temptation to go across the border, but some US retailers are really pushing to bring Black Friday here to Canada, trying to keep Canadian shoppers and Canadian money right here in Canada. So, we’ve seen the likes of J Crew and GAP, some online retailers as well pushing Black Friday sales, saying that the deals here are just as good as what you get across the border. From the people that I’ve been speaking with here at the mall, I don’t know, I’ve been getting some mixed reviews. They’ve been saying that it has been worth their while to go over the border, that sometimes the deals here just don’t quite match what they’re seeing in the States.


Werman: What about that big day in Canada, like they have in the UK, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Is that still important?


Ward: It is still important but here, the mall that I’m at, they say that last year was the first year that Black Friday sales have actually eclipsed Boxing Day sales and they expect that to happen again. Lots of people still do go out on Boxing Day and get those deals, but because this is before Christmas, a lot of people are now taking advantage of Black Friday as a way to get out, to get some good deals on those holiday purchases, but also to do some shopping for themselves. I’d say 90% of the people that I’ve been speaking with here say that they’re actually out here shopping for their own personal goods. They want to take advantage of a brand new winter coat -- again, a good deal on things like that, for themselves, not so much for Christmas. So, it’ll be interesting to see this Boxing Day, as they say last year we saw a 20% increase in in-store sales over the year before. It’ll be interesting to see what those numbers are this year as we go into Boxing Day, to see if Boxing Day sales are actually down this year.


Werman: Is there any culture of not buying? I think of Ad Busters, which is based up in Canada, a non-profit anti-consumerism organization. Is there a culture that will maybe trump Black Friday, or is this just going to get bigger and bigger?


Ward: I think Black Friday in Canada is expected to get bigger and bigger. We have obviously, like I mentioned before, people who take advantage of Black Friday in the States from Canada as well, they go over the border. Certainly this year we have seen lower gas prices that are driving people across the border even more. They don’t worry about things like gas prices, “Is it worth the drive to Buffalo from here?” We’re also seeing a little bit of a lag in the Canadian dollar, so maybe your dollar in the States is not going to go as far, so they’re sticking around here. It depends on things like that -- it depends on the Canadian dollar’s worth against the US dollar, it depends on things like gas prices, as to whether or not Black Friday will really start to soar here in Canada. But certainly the trend over the last four years is that sales here on Black Friday and beyond, even the weeks surrounding Black Friday, have only gone up.