The weekend witnessed a rush of thousands of Egyptians into malls and small retail shops, trying to grab the best deals on everything from house appliances and electronics to clothes, food and even detergents. It was the Black Friday bonanza.
Black Friday is the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, the fourth Thursday of November. It is the largest shopping day in the US with stores opening their doors as early as 5am and offering up to 70-90 per cent discounts.
The concept is relatively new to Egyptians, introduced only three or four years ago by online shopping sites like Jumia and Souq.
During the last couple of years it has moved to shopping malls, under the name “White Friday” after users of social media networks criticised calling Friday, a holy day for Muslims, black.
While it started as a one-day offer, it extended to the weekend, before this year reaching a one-week period of White Friday offers.
The unprecedented increase in prices during the past two years has pushed Egyptians to fish for any opportunity to buy discounted commodities.
The malls were packed with shoppers lured by the reduced price tags. Stores, as well as online shopping sites, had discounts that reached 70 per cent on some items.
However, this year the bulk of the crowd went window shopping. No official figures have so far been given for sales related to Black Friday, but it seems that increasing financial burdens — with fuel, electricity and food prices skyrocketing — overshadowed the offers.
In Carrefour Hypermarket, one of the biggest retailers in Egypt which offered discounts on all items across the board, Black Friday sales were like that of any usual Friday, according to Adel Ibrahim, a manager at one of Carrefour’s Cairo branches.
“Despite the real attractive offers this year, which are much higher than last year in both the number of items and percentage of discounts, the number of shoppers is noticeably lower than last year,” Ibrahim said.
Last year, you couldn’t put a foot in the branch. You could barely breathe with shoppers jostling elbow to elbow, racing to stand in queues in front of the cashier, according to Ibrahim.
“We did not know what to expect this year. But definitely not this emptiness,” he asserted, citing tough living conditions in light of spiralling price increases.
Even without official numbers on Black Friday sales, Ibrahim said electronics were the largest selling items in the branch he works for.
“Most who purchased from the electronic section on Black Fridays were couples about to get married, and had been saving money to get these items and waiting for the sale. Other than that, few discounted items were sold,” he added.
While retailers blame the financial situation for the thin transactions, consumers tell a different story.
“The Egyptian Black Friday is a trick in most cases. Shops deceive people as they try to attract shoppers by announcing fake reductions,” Salma Adel said.
“A month ago I decided not to buy a frying pan that I needed in the hope that its price, LE775 back then, would be reduced in the Black Friday sales.
However, when I went to buy it on Friday, I found it for the same price while the price tag shows a discount from LE850. They put fake prices to convince buyers that they are getting good bargains,” according to Adel.
Adel shares the same story with many who believe that Egypt’s Black Friday is a lie, unlike anywhere else in the world.
“For me Black Friday in Egypt doesn’t mean 50 per cent off or more on any item. It just means we have some sort of offer now. I stopped trusting any promotion or marketing claims in Egypt years ago and I always check prices before any sales so that I know how much the discount really is.”
Mohamed Al-Said is also among those who believe that Egypt offers a twisted form of Black Friday discounts, which leads people to actually purchase a lot more than their original need.
“Most offers are sort of getting several pieces of a certain item to reduce the price of each,” Al-Said said.“Seduced by the offer, customers end up getting three or four pieces of an item they don’t really need, just to get 20 or 30 per cent off the one piece they originally wanted.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Egypt’s Black Friday: Trick or treat?