Ololade Ajekigbe: Black Friday; The Nigerian Experience

Last Friday was “Black Friday.” It was hard to miss, what with the hype from retail stores about the massive discounts and promo sales that would be enjoyed on various household items, cloths and electronics which had been on for a while. I wondered what all the euphoria was all about until I googled it and discovered that it was yet another “American imported idea.” Black Friday is the day after thanksgiving, which is marked on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States. The Friday following that highly significant day is seen as the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season, hence, the day is sort of set aside to mark the beginning of the shopping season towards Christmas. And so, I wondered – since we don’t celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday over here, why were we identifying with Black Friday? I couldn’t really think of any answer, save for our usual penchant for copying the Western world in almost everything regardless of its practicality over here or not.

This piece is not to suggest that the concept of Black Friday is bad. As a matter of fact, I believe consumers are the better for it. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be able to purchase otherwise expensive items at knock-off prices, thanks to the huge discounts available to buyers on a particular day or over a weekend? Several retail stores such as Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Target in the United States offered great deals on their stock, the result of which led to customers practically braving the cold and camping outside their stores in an attempt to be one of the first in line to buy from them. In fact, matters came to a head in some stores where buyers were seen involved in plenty of pushing and shoving. as well as full blown fisticuffs that required law enforcement officers to be called in. Such is the do-or-die mentality associated with Black Friday.

Down here in Nigeria, like their Western counterparts, many stores announced before hand that there were going to be fantastic discounts on that fateful day, the online shopping platforms were not left out, particularly the very popular ones. Adverts were placed on social media sites, blogs, websites as well as on TV, Radio and Newspapers promising that it would be the biggest sales day in Nigeria’s online shopping history. The frenzy caught on really fast among internet shoppers; trust the average Nigerian not to miss out on any “awoof” offers that promises to help them retain some hard earned cash. Many waited with the impatient readiness of one who was about to participate in a 100 metres dash. I know people who ensured that they had sufficient data on their mobile devices, and scrimped on precious sleep just so they could get that particular product they had been “eyeing” online at the best bargain possible.

By midnight on Friday, many people logged on to the sites of the online shopping platforms who had promised heaven on earth by way of assuring intending shoppers of rock bottom prices in many cases. The much anticipated Black Friday had arrived. But, it arrived, only for would-be buyers to discover that many major online sites had to intention of “cooperating” with them. In many cases, the site either refused to open, or repeatedly refreshed to no end. The few people who were even “lucky” enough to be able to log in found out that the items they intended to purchase were tagged- “Sold out!” Needless to say, many Nigerians ended up frustrated about their inability to take advantage of the “great promo deals” promised.

I can remember vividly that the story wasn’t much different last year. Many Nigerian shoppers were left in the lurch by these online retail shopping sites after plenty of hype and anticipation of enjoying “huge deals” on a variety of items, these sites flatly refused to open or in some cases were found to have practically deceived the unsuspecting populace about getting certain items for next to nothing. I am not a mathematics guru, but in a situation where an item sold for N10,000 before black Friday, and ended up selling for N9,600 on Black Friday, pray tell where exactly is the “rock bottom” price or “90% discount” that has been applied here. I am not aware that Nigerian retail stores, particularly the online ones were coerced into adopting the “imported Americanism” called Black Friday. It is bad enough that we tend to feel a need to copy virtually everything that is associated with the West, but worse when we fail to implement it properly, especially when consumers are made to bear the brunt of such deceit as appears to have been the case here.

If our online retail stores had observed from last years experience that there were more orders than they anticipated which in turn resulted in their site being jammed or crashing, one would have expected that this year, a near full proof measure would have been put in place to ensure that the risk of a recurrence would be reduced to the barest minimum if somebody wasn’t trying to play smart. Perhaps, it is the notion that they will always get away with almost any wrong doing in this part of the world that emboldens them to treat consumers as they please.

This brings to the fore the need for government to set up an independent regulatory body to monitor the activities of online shopping businesses in Nigeria in order to bring some level of credibility to the sector. A functioning body where internet shoppers can not only lodge complaints when they have any issues in their dealings with e-commerce businesses, but can be assured that their grievances would be addressed professionally will go a long way in swaying conservative shoppers like me to consider online shopping as a viable and stress free mode of shopping.

In the meantime, since “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are over now, in our usual optimistic manner, let’s hope once again that next year will usher in a better experience for online shoppers.

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