As it appeared in the Daily Nation on December 4th 2018
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu
The Black Friday concept is gaining prominence in Kenya. This year, many retailers and malls have been running Black Friday campaigns. On one hand, Kenya’s largest shopping mall, Two Rivers for example has been running a Black November sale promotion themed “Every day is black Friday”. On the other hand, Jumia.co.ke an online retailer is running a sales campaign themed “Every Friday is a Black Friday”. Is the black Friday concept widely understood in Kenya? Is it possible to run an effective black Friday sale in Kenya? Could it be that there is an opportunity for Kenyan retailers to custom make a national wide Black Friday equivalent?
With its origin in the United States, simply stated Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday every November. The Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the US, Canada and some other few parts of the world but it is not marked globally. The day involves major celebrations marked with family reunions over a meal. In Kenya however, we often do not observe Thanksgiving Day. This makes it a little difficult to fathom black Friday. I have even noticed that some Kenyans are running online campaigns that the only black Friday they recognize if good Friday. In the US, black Friday marks the beginning of massive shopping that is experienced before Christmas. Anyone who has experienced black Friday shopping in the US can tell a story of the push and shove. Having worked in retail in the US, I had first-hand experience of black Friday sales and I can only say it is hard to decipher. In other countries, black Friday is of lesser significance.
Having closely studied the Kenyan consumer, I do not think that majority of Kenyans have a shopping craze. In addition, our retailers do not have a culture of having items on sale. In fact, I am often suspect when I see an item on sale as I once bought LINDOR chocolates on sale only to find out that they were just about to expire. I also recently bought an item on sale at Jumia only later to realize that the merchandise had the year 2017 on them. Culture is crucial in defining shopping habits. In the US for example having items on sale is quite common. In some instances, it is a marketing gimmick as some stores run sales all year around. In addition, Christmas in the US is considered a time to exchange gifts. The black Friday shopping frenzy therefore presents an opportunity for US shoppers to buy low prized gift both for themselves and for others. In Kenya, Christmas is about family, travel and lots of food and though gifting happens, it is not deeply embedded in our culture.
Globally and even in Kenya, the bulk of retail sales happens in the month of December. Particularly in Kenya, this happens because of both the Christmas holidays and the back to school shopping. Maybe Kenyan retailers need to come together, study the Kenyan consumer in more details and identify a specific day or week when to run a countrywide sales promotion. Why not custom make our own ‘Black Friday’ equivalent in early December?
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy