Black Friday won’t save our high streets
A mad dash for the shops on Black Friday underscored that Cyprus has truly embraced American-style consumerism, as long as there is the lure of a decent bargain at the end of the journey.
Shopping malls and high streets were once again alive with the sound of people desperate to hand over their cash for the desired item or items. The rustling of euros could be heard across the country as Cypriots found the courage to use their spending power on a day created just for them.
It wasn’t always thus, the 2013 banking meltdown and the onset of harsh austerity, low wages and fewer jobs hurt Cypriot households hard.
Among the ruins of the Cyprus economy, Black Friday seemed as far away as the Death Star – the last thing on everyone’s mind was getting in first to enjoy a discount on an expensive smart 4K TV.
The many thousands who received a severe haircut on their deposits were more likely to sell the TV to make ends meet rather than buy a new ultra high-definition flat screen monitor.
Shops were going out of business, people were losing their jobs and the mortgage was turning into a toxic weapon of destruction.
For a good stretch things were grim and at this time of year, it did feel like the Grinch had stolen Christmas and our wallets to boot.
Fortunately, we have stumbled out of the darkness to find our confidence growing again in the future even though our banks have no money to lend us and no interest to give.
And as Cypriots have begun to feel more affluent, Black Friday appeals because consumers like to believe they are winners, not taken for mugs or ripped off.
The cynics would argue that Black Friday is just another gimmick to get rid of stock that isn’t shifting or to offload goods that would go on sale on another designated date.
Arguably, it’s just a smart marketing move to squeeze out more from the consumer in the run-up to the festive holidays.
Airlines, car rental firms, online retailers, all use Black Friday as a tagline to persuade potential buyers that they are being treated in a favourable manner and need to strike gold while the window of opportunity is presented to you.
Nobody can resist a bargain because out there on the financial frontline there are no free lunches or gift-wrapped favours in a working environment of pay gaps, gender inequality and nepotism.
Shopping for bargains is our comfort food – a way of upgrading our status to make the grind more palatable.
Whatever one might think of the Black Friday frenzy, it has breathed new life into the high street by getting people out to shop rather than do it online. Although its most probably the shopping malls that did the most business, as finding somewhere to park in the towns is a nightmare.
But Black Friday has shown that with the right approach, consumers can be enticed into the physical world from their virtual comfort zone. Having said that, Cyprus has a long way to go in enhancing the shopping experience, especially in our soulless, dying high streets.
It might be said that shopping malls are the enemy of the small retailer, but it doesn’t have to be that way if retailers are innovative and cater for different needs because one size doesn’t fit all.
Government and local authorities should encourage different types of business to open on the high street, look at niche marketing, keep the rents down, while trying to foster young entrepreneurs with fresh ideas.
The high street of the future – if there is one – will not be about fashion or electronics, but communal spaces where people can experience social interaction, you know, that thing that used to happen before the digital age.
Thinking out of the box, the high street can offer a mixture of retailing, entertainment, culture, leisure and wellbeing.
It should focus on physical services, experiences, and social interactions that the internet or social media does not provide.
To make it happen there has to be an integrated plan on sustainable infrastructure, a lifestyle rethink and a comprehensive public transport system.
Living in a service culture shouldn’t just be about long queues to buy bigger and better gadgets… but it does feel good.