Why It's Time for a British Black Friday

28/11/2014 11:04 GMT | Updated 27/01/2015 10:59 GMT

There are three things November is famous for in Britain - Guy Fawkes fireworks, men growing moustaches for charity and everyone crying at TV advertisements. For this is the month when the Christmas klaxon is well and truly sounded as retail giants like John Lewis, Sainsbury's and Tesco release their heart-warming mini-films designed to inspire a seasonal spending spree.

Why, though, must such a key moment in the retail calendar be confined to the sofa? It's one thing entertaining people at home with a wonderful two-minute film, quite another to entice them into shops to stock up on Christmas gifts and order the turkey.

In America, they do things a little differently. Over there, a special day is set aside for retailers and consumers to bond in a veritable feast of shopping. The Friday that follows the fourth Thursday in November is known as Black Friday - the moment when Christmas shopping and the early sales begin in earnest both in-store and online. So seriously is the day taken that it's even an official state holiday in half of the country with some stores opening at 4am to cater for the hungriest of bargain-hunters.

And what a day it is. Last year on the Black Friday weekend - November 29-31 - an estimated 249million shoppers spent almost $62billion - that's an average spend of more than $400 each.

It's their equivalent of a hedonistic British Bank Holiday weekend - except with its own domain name, .blackfriday, utilised by many companies who offer even bigger discounts to the vast market on the web, a consumer audience that is growing exponentially. It's the day before is Thanksgiving, so in all likelihood the family are already together for what becomes a long weekend of shopping and bargain-hunting. Which is why it's called 'Black' Friday - after a post-summer lull, retailers are finally given the chance to get their books firmly back in the black rather than fall into the red. And they do all they can to keep the customer satisfied - many stores, such as Walmart, JC Penney, Sears and Staples, lay on supervised child-friendly play areas so parents can throw themselves into the shopping frenzy and some malls even stage fashion shows and live cooking demonstrations to keep the weary happy.

The closest equivalent in Britain would be the Boxing Day sales, an equally indulgent moment but which has one serious drawback. By then, you've already spent most of your money on presents for everyone else - which leaves whatever is left for you. How much better would it be if the official shopping season began before you splashed out on family and friends? That instead of going all misty-eyed over a few TV commercials that heralded the start of Christmas, you marched wide-eyed onto the High Street hunting down bargains a month before Santa arrives.

Some American institutions don't always survive the long journey across the Atlantic - baseball and burnt bacon, for instance. However, Amazon, Apple and Asda have already tried to get the ball rolling in the UK but, despite a reported £200m being spent at the tills and online on Black Friday's November 29 last year, the momentousness of the event is yet to catch on over here. Things may be changing though. Along with those retailers mentioned above, Argos, Currys, PC World and John Lewis are among the High Street giants getting in on the act this year - which falls on November 28 - and it seems to be working. eDigitalResearch found that 72% of UK consumers have heard of the term "Black Friday".

In this interconnected consumerist world where retail business models are being constantly rewritten to cope with the speed of technological change, perhaps there's a space in the real - and not just the virtual world - for a day of bargain-hunting before Christmas instead of after it. Why should a more reticent Europe look on in envy - and, yes, occasional shock as hordes stream through the doors at dawn - as their favourite brands slash prices in America?

Who knows? Perhaps Black Friday could become as essential to the start of Christmas as Slade, two-for-one mince pies and the John Lewis ad.