By Bongani Ndlovu, Leonard Ncube and Patrick Chitumba
The Black Friday craze swept through the country yesterday as bargain hunters thronged retail shops hoping to cash in on “huge discounts” in preparation for the festive season.
In Bulawayo police- with batons and dogs- were roped in to maintain order in mad scrambles at the city’s major retail outlets.
Since the country is still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, police battled in vain to enforce social distancing and encouraging those who were not wearing masks to do so.
The crowds were a surprise as some people have been complaining that they are penniless after Covid-19 shut down most money-making ventures.
The pandemic that has killed more than 1,5 million people worldwide and more than 200 locally appeared to be forgotten as shoppers threw caution to the wind as they sought bargains.
Mr Michael Ncube who was queued at an Edgars Stores outlet in Bulawayo said he was there to buy a suit.
“The suit I want was $20 000 but today, it’s pegged at $3 000. What a giveaway!” said an ecstatic Mr Ncube.
“We were jostling with a lot of people trying to get bargains. I got here at 5.30AM and the queue was growing.”
Inside stores, long queues were the order of the day, but Edgars Stores had opened about four areas for payments.
Some who could not manage standing for long hours sat on the floor.
Due to the high volumes of traffic, maintaining social distancing was impossible as people were just concerned about buying whatever they could afford.
A Chronicle news crew observed a frenetic rush as soon as the doors were opened at an Edgars outlet.
A large number of men who had out-muscled others outside the store surged to the men’s wear department where trousers were going for as low as $100 each. Instead of taking one, some were grabbing entire racks, which had at least 20 items. By 11AM, most racks were empty.
At TV Sales and Home it was the same situation. There were long queues and people were jostling to get the latest appliances that were at a bargain. By 11AM, freezers had sold out along with beds, fridges, gas stoves and television sets.
The prices had been slashed by nearly half as for example a freezer that was $61 000 cost $37 000 yesterday. By 1PM, the queues had subsided and people were trickling in buying whatever was left in the shop.
In Gweru, it was the same as stores such as Edgars and Jet were teeming with customers who thronged the stores as early as 5AM. By 8am, there was commotion and most were not observing social distancing which is one of the Covid-19 mitigation measures.
Security guards at the stores failed to take clients’ temperatures as has become the norm. They were simply overwhelmed by the jostling mass of humanity. Police with dogs also had to be called in to contain frenzied shoppers. Some hardware shops slashed prices by up to 40 percent on selected products.
In Victoria Falls, shops opened as early as 6am, but queues were not the usual long-winding ones that characterised the same shops in previous years. People were oblivious of Covid-19 pandemic as they did not observe social distancing.
At Edgars, police had to bring in dogs to force buyers to space out. Some shops reduced prices by about 50 percent and people were buying mostly clothes and kitchen utensils.
In other countries, the long queues that were anticipated were not there as the shopping took place online due to the pandemic. People congregated online and wiped the shops clean within hours of opening.
Some online stores’ websites crashed because of the sheer number of people who were logged on trying to buy the products which were at giveaway prices.
The Black Friday shopping frenzy, an informal name for the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, is celebrated as a shopping holiday on the last Friday of November. The phenomenon, which marks the beginning of Christmas shopping is the day when people get to buy things on discount.
Some save up for the better part of the year for this day in anticipation of good deals as retail shops slash prices by half with some being slashed by up to 75 percent.
Various explanations have been proffered to explain the origins of Black Friday.
According to thebalance.com: “…With all the shopping activity that takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving, the day became one of the most profitable days of the year for retailers and businesses. Because accountants use black to signify profit when recording each day’s book entries (and red to indicate a loss), the day became known as Black Friday—or the day when retailers see positive earnings and profits ‘in the black.’”
The UK Telegraph states the term “Black Friday” was actually first associated with financial crisis, not sales shopping.
“Two Wall Street financiers Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, together bought a significant amount of US gold in the hope of the overall price soaring and in turn being able to sell it for huge profits.
“On Friday 24 September, 1869, in what became referred to as “Black Friday”, the US gold market crashed and Fisk and Gould’s actions left Wall Street barons bankrupt.
“It was not until later years that the post-Thanksgiving period became associated with the name,” read an article in the paper’s website.
Some historians maintain that Black Friday came about because Southern plantation owners could buy black slaves at a discounted price following Thanksgiving in the 1800s. The Chronicle