Black Friday refers to the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US marking the beginning of the shopping season in that country, where shopping is taken as seriously as religion. Photo: Reuters
Black Friday refers to the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US marking the beginning of the shopping season in that country, where shopping is taken as seriously as religion. Photo: Reuters

Why Black Friday sale matters to e-commerce in India

As much as confirming American influence on pop culture in India, 'Black Friday' indicates that brands still blindly resort to discounts in hope that customers don't lose interest

Bengaluru: Black Friday in India is associated with the gritty movie by Anurag Kashyap on the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. Yet, all kinds of brands spammed customers with promotions of a “Black Friday" sale last week, offering big discounts without bothering to explain what Black Friday was.

As much as confirming the American influence on pop culture here, this comical marketing gimmick indicates that all kinds of brands continue to blindly resort to discounts, in the hope that customers, who now have more options than ever to choose from across several products and services, will not lose interest.

Retailers, phone makers, appliance makers and even banks sent Black Friday promotions to people starting late last week. For the uninitiated, Black Friday refers to the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US marking the beginning of the shopping season in the country, where shopping is taken as seriously as religion.

For many Indian customers, the Black Friday sale is simply one of the dozens of sale events in a year. The sale points to how companies are using Black Friday as a ruse to run discounts, experts said.

Experts pointed out that such discounting doesn’t build brand loyalty, and harms companies in the long run as consumers become so used to discounts that retailers find it increasingly difficult to encourage purchases during non-sale periods.

“It’s nothing but lazy marketing—just copy something and try to paste it here. Another example is end of season sales. In India, who buys clothes according to autumn, winter, summer and spring? Nobody does. They (brands) are completely removed from the ground reality of how India works and that’s where people like Reliance, W and Future Group are doing well," said Harminder Sahni, founder and managing director, Wazir Advisors.

Brands in India, though, woke up to the idea very late. The earliest that consumers received messages about Black Friday offers were a day or two in advance. RedSeer Consulting’s chief executive Anil Kumar believes that brands which wanted to grab consumer attention via sales had only two choices—either run a plain vanilla sale, or tag the sale onto an event, which is more effective.

In this case, since the event was one that is not significant at all in India, brands weren’t expecting anything big to come out of it, he added.

Brands pushing Black Friday offers range from fast-food chain Faasos to lifestyle products brands like Inc.5, Smytten, Koovs and Shein. Smartphone maker Xiaomi even ran a radio ad on its Black Friday offers in regional languages, including Kannada. “Physical retailers are far more tuned in because they have no other choice but to do that. Some, like Future Group and Shoppers Stop, have grown in the Indian market with the Indian ethos. But e-commerce companies are more connected to what’s happening in the West rather than what is happening in their own country," said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight.

Some offline retailers such as Shoppers Stop, for instance, had no visible promotion of a Black Friday sale at their stores. Still, some say, the concept is not absurd, considering a lot of western ideas have come to India anyway, plus the Indian consumer is so attuned to sales that the name doesn’t matter. “I think retailers want the attention of consumers. And so long as it is a sale, whatever you term it doesn’t really matter to Indian consumers. Diwali and Dusshera are once in a year, but you can’t have sales only once in a year. So, you’ll need to have more occasions to have sales," said Anil Talreja, partner at Deloitte.

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