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Black Friday seduces France amid US backlash

Dan MacGuill · 29 Nov 2013, 11:01

Published: 29 Nov 2013 11:01 GMT+01:00

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It’s seen by many as the ultimate symbol of American consumerist excess – ravenous shoppers fresh from expressing their gratitude for the simple things in life, leave their families at home and rush off to buy a new TV or the latest Apple products.

This year, however, the phenomenon of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has come to France like never before.

“Black Friday – until midnight, 15 percent off a selection of products”, reads the banner ad on the homepage of leading French retailer FNAC.

According to French daily Le Parisien, FNAC’s 107 locations across France are also getting “Vendredi Noir” fever, though their 10am-8pm opening hours hardly rival those of their American counterparts, many of whom open on Thanksgiving evening itself, or in the early hours of Friday.

US giant Apple, slightly more demurely, bills Friday as “the ideal day to find the perfect gift,” offering “special prices only today.”

French electronics retailer CDiscount, however, appears to have gone all out this year, billing its sales as Black Friday, and placing a countdown to the end of their 85-percent discounts on their homepage.

French online retailer CDiscount, getting into the "Vendredi Noir" swing of things. Screengrab

Similarly, online video game retailer Origin promises Black Friday sales of up to 60 percent on its website.

The phenomenon is still primarily an online one in France, and many retailers – like Apple and Darty – are holding sales on Friday without labelling them “Black Friday” or “Vendredi Noir”, most other outlets preferring the English language designation.

For consultant and businessman Greg Zemor, the adoption of the American shopping tradition is simply a way for crisis-hit French retailers to boost their sales.

“It’s about creating a new landmark for the consumer, on a par with the first day of summer and winter sales,” he told French financial daily Les Echos on Friday.

As in the UK and Ireland, France traditionally sees major sales in early January, as well in late June.

An unusually poor turnover in spring, however, forced many French stores to start their summer discounts early this year.

SEE ALSO: 'I don't care what they do in New York' - US retailer forced to close early in Paris

Black Friday - on the march in France, on the back foot in the US?

The rise of Vendredi Noir and Cyber Lundi in France comes, perhaps ironically, amid increasing unease among American consumers about the excesses of Black Friday.

The “Black Friday backlash”, as it’s become known, is a reaction to the yearly pushing forward of Black Friday opening hours, to the point where many stores actually opened as early as 6pm on Thanksgiving itself, this year.

The main concern of those calling for a boycott of Thursday openings is the obligation it places on often poorly-paid workers to tear themselves away from their loved ones, on what is tantamount to a sacred festival in the United States.

“If you shop on Thanksgiving, you are part of the problem,” wrote blogger Matt Walsh in the Huffington Post last week, provoking 815,000 “likes” on Facebook.

Story continues below…

This pledge to refrain from a trip to the local department store on Thanksgiving has been shared almost one million times on the social network.

“If I’m shopping, someone else is working and not spending time with their family,” it reads.

Photo: Facebook/Say No to shopping on Thanksgiving

Since Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in France, retailer workers’ obligations during pre-Christmas sales are unlikely to become quite as fiercely-contested.

However, if store opening hours continue to lengthen on and around Vendredi Noir, retailers – both French and multinational – could face a backlash in France, where workdays are strictly regulated by law.

International brands such as Apple and Sephora have recently fallen foul of France’s laws against opening past 9pm, and the county has been hit by a divisive debate over whether retailers such as DIY stores, should be allowed to open on Sundays.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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