“Bedlam,” “stampede” and “mental” were some of the words used by witnesses on Friday to describe the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland, where a pitched battle for bargains created chaos in the aisles of a Belfast retailer.
Has Black Friday, that busy, busy shopping day that follows the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, officially jumped across the pond?
The BBC reported at least one injury in Belfast, when a woman had to be carted from an Asda, the U.K.-based general merchandiser owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT), to a nearby hospital to treat a broken wrist.
Granted, one Black Friday incident in Ireland does not a trend make, but the phenomenon is starting to pop up here and there outside of the U.S. For example, here’s a Dutch toy company offering a “Black Friday” special on its website, where the cheapest of three toys is free. And in Canada, Black Friday has gone mainstream, largely in a bid to either lure U.S. shoppers across the border or to prevent Canadians from heading south with their sales tax revenue.
Here’s what the U.K. Independent said to educate its British readers about the annual sales special event:
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"The phenomenon is also spreading to the U.K. Admittedly, the British version isn’t exactly a mirror image of its American counterpart, but there have been major retailers, including Asda and Amazon, looking to make Black Friday a fixture on the U.K.’s shopping calendar."
Both Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) have marketed Black Friday deals in the U.K. and other European countries, introducing those unaware of the phrase coined by the Philadelphia police in 1966 to describe how they feel about the huge crowds and traffic congestion caused by the event.
One place Black Friday is not an event is France, which is currently in the midst of debating the idea of allowing large retailers to open on Sundays. While much of Europe still abides by the principle (and in some cases regulations) that keep many stores closed on Sunday, France is particularly exceptional when it comes to controlling retail activity.
France strictly controls when retailers can offer sales. Only twice a year -- in January and February, and in June and July -- can retailers offer sales specials. The idea, according to proponents, is aimed at preventing large retailers from selling items at a loss to lure customers away from smaller merchants.
But in this day and age, even in France there are questions about how far the government should go in protecting small businesses from the onslaught of retail giants.
“In the 21st century, we need more choice to shop if we want,” Bernard Sfeir, a business strategy director in Paris, told the Christian Science Monitor regarding the issue of allowing stories to open on Sunday.