Europeans Don’t Celebrate Thanksgiving, But They Love Black Friday Sales

Getting a great deal transcends borders

Day after Thanksgiving sales are gaining popularity in Europe, despite there being no Thanksgiving. Getty Images

Thanksgiving is a very American holiday, tracing back to 1621 when colonists and Native Americans feasted together following a bountiful harvest. At least that’s what Americans like to believe.

While the origin of that inaugural festival is still debated, what’s clear is that in 1789, George Washington issued the first official Thanksgiving proclamation, asking Americans to show gratitude for the outcome of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution. In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday.

Black Friday, on the other hand, can be traced back to the city of Philadelphia in the 1950s, when shoppers descended upon the city the day after Thanksgiving. It took another 30 years before it became a thing. Since then, it has evolved into a four-day retail blitz, one that is expected to net $23.4 billion in online sales in the U.S. this year, according to Adobe.

Like many ridiculous parts of American consumer culture, Black Friday is slowly spreading across the globe. Research from eMarketer shows interest in Black Friday is now growing across most of Europe, where it has become the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Social media management firm Sprout Social also found that countries like Canada, the U.K., France and Brazil are seeing traffic upticks on Twitter for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

EMarketer said consumers in the U.K., Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway are among the most enthusiastic Black Friday shoppers, but adoption is rising rapidly in France “as people become accustomed to the idea of shopping for discounts outside of the legally designated summer and winter sales periods.”

Case in point: Across the Atlantic Thursday and Friday, online retailers are preparing for a bump in trade to the tune of 1.54 billion pounds (nearly $2 billion) with ecommerce trade body IMRG asserting that sales for the week will surpass 8 billion euros. This amount equates to more than $10 billion in trade, up 12.5 percent year-over-year, in a market with a population of 66 million.

But why?

For starters, eMarketer said Black Friday is an excuse for European consumers to buy things for themselves, like apparel, electronics and toys. In line with this, the National Retail Federation (NRF), which only tracks the U.S., said it has heard from retailers that the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday have spread to other countries because “people want to experience what it is like to catch a great deal.”

That being said, these retail holidays are likely limited to western countries (likely because consumers in the east have Singles Day).

Given that the concept of Black Friday is a relatively new one for Europeans—understanding of the term varies but it’s arguably more popular since the turn of the last decade—leading many retailers to take a liberal interpretation of the date. Hence, the IMRG coining the phrase “Blackvember.”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said, “Sales activity continues to be at its peak for this period on the actual day itself, but over the past five years, the campaigns that retailers run have extended over a longer period to help ease the pressure on their operations.”

In fact, statistics from last year show that sales peaked on the holiday itself only to decline steadily as December 25 drew closer. Mulcahy goes on to note how the U.K.’s largest retailers emphasize their discounting of products in the run-up to Black Friday as part of their campaigns and then quickly switch their messaging to become more seasonal in tone, thus reflecting their above-the-line activity.

“On the Tuesday following Cyber Monday, the focus typically switches back to Christmas and the sites/communications reflect the seasonal design, messaging and layout,” he added.

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.