Black Fri­day won’t save our high streets

Just Words...

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - CYPRUS - By Char­lie Char­alam­bous

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.

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