Black Friday - all it's cracked up to be?

Black Friday shoppers in New York (Getty)
Black Friday shoppers in New York (Getty)

Halloween is not the only American tradition that is catching on here. Retailers are adopting the discount shopping day known as 'Black Friday'.

It is the day after Thanksgiving Day, and a time of crowded shops and sometimes chaotic scenes as American shoppers scramble to grab items that are sometimes massively discounted.

It has become so popular, it has extended through the weekend and online as well, with 'Cyber Monday'.

New Zealand retail chains are getting in on the act too. The Warehouse, Noel Leeming and Harvey Norman are among retailers offering Black Friday discounts. So too is Apple.

The website will be offering a one-day sale, involving dozens of retailers like Pascoes, Postie, Torpedo7, Paper Plus and The Baby Factory.

Black Friday is also growing in popularity in other countries like the UK.

But it all pales beside the US. Black Friday marks the start of the United States' holiday shopping season. Thirty percent of the USA's annual retail sales occur between now and the end of the year.

It's commonly thought the name dates from the 1980s when US retailers started running Black Friday sales to celebrate finally going into profit (out of red and into black).

But the names dates back to the 1950s and '60s, to Philadelphia. It was a term used by police to describe the traffic congestion on the day after Thanksgiving, as tens of thousands of people flocked into the central city. All leave was cancelled and police would have to work 12-hour shifts to oversee the crowds.

You will see some big numbers associated with Black Friday. More than 100 million people went to the shops over the entire long Thanksgiving weekend last year.

But it's important not to get too carried away by the hype around Black Friday. In recent years the actual sales generated by Black Friday have not equalled the predictions.

There has also been a growing trend in which spending has dropped from the previous year. It suggests US shoppers are starting to suffer from Black Friday fatigue. It also reflects the fact that many retailers have begun their Black Friday specials before the big day itself.

Another reason for the drop in spending is that people have opted to buy online, particularly on the following Monday when retailers offer their Cyber Monday specials.

The US National Retail Federation says last year 102 million people went to the shops over the entire weekend, compared to predictions of 135 million. That was a drop of 31 million people from the 133.7 million who did some in-store shopping in 2014.

The spend per person was also down last year - with an average of US$299.60, compared to US$380.95 in 2014.

The drop in interest is probably also due to the fact that people have realised that there are some products that they might be better to buy after Black Friday.

Brand-name TVs, winter clothing and bedding are among products routinely discounted in late December. Some products, like high-end cameras, are regularly upgraded in the New Year.