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Black Friday Around the World

Nov. 14, 2013
Black Friday, Shopping
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Americans think of Black Friday deals as uniquely American, being that Black Friday is defined as the day after Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. has a lock on retail “holidays” that trigger hot deals and frenzied buying. Here are five other seasons and reasons that spur shoppers to action (or in one case, inaction) all over the world.

Diwali (India)

This five-day festival of light takes place in either late October or early November, depending on the Hindu lunar calendar. In India, customs vary by region, but Indians view the holiday as time to celebrate the harvest, prosperity, and spiritual enlightenment. While in some regions Diwali was traditionally marked with sumptuous food and lots of sweets, in recent years the emphasis has changed to shopping, particularly online shopping for fashion, household goods, and gifts. A 2009 PayPal survey indicated that 75 percent of Indians would do some or all of their Diwali shopping online.

Boxing Day (Commonwealth countries)

Americans see Boxing Day on a calendar and wonder, “A holiday for fighting?” We just don’t get it. But Commonwealth nations such as the U.K., Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa do. Boxing Day—in most countries it’s the day after Christmas—is traditionally a day for giving gifts to the needy or those who serve the public.

In Canada and the U.K., Boxing Day is a public holiday. Shoppers line up overnight, stores slash prices and stay open extra hours, crowds go wild, and retailers bank on the holiday as a final push to get their numbers up for the year. Boxing Day is picking up steam online.  In 2012, the BBC reported that retail websites in the U.K. had 126 million visitors, a jump of 31 percent from 2011.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year means festivals, fireworks, parades, and intricate rituals that confer luck and good fortune. But that’s not the whole reason for the season in the East, where the Lunar New Year is preceded by a shopping frenzy rivaling Christmas in the West. The holiday is so important that last year Apple created a special online shopping day in its honor: Red Friday, which fell on Jan. 25 in 2013.

In Hong Kong, malls celebrate the Lunar New Year by bringing in shoppers by the busload from the mainland. In Taipei, the mayor himself ushered in a citywide shopping event last year, which for the first time in 2013 included department stores and big box retailers, many of whom stayed open 24/7.

Summer Bonus Season (Japan)

While not a “holiday” in the traditional sense, summer bonus season is a big deal for retailers in Japan. It’s a time when companies give (and employees expect) a fat, one-time bump in their salaries. Recent surveys indicate that about 70 percent of Japanese employees get summer bonuses, and of those who do, the average is $4,000 to $5,000. Japan’s ongoing economic stagnation has prompted many bonus recipients to save the cash, but those who do spend it splurge on electronics, cars, house wares and other luxury purchases they’ve been putting off.

Buy Nothing Day (international)

A calendar filled with appeals to buy, buy, buy will naturally elicit a response asking international consumers to step away from the credit cards for a moment.  That’s the idea behind Buy Nothing Day, a stick in the eye of materialism. The anti-holiday right after Black Friday is credited to Vancouver comic artist Ted Dave, who started it in 1992 to call attention to the fact that everything around him was geared to sell. “I was getting exhausted and I thought it would be really nice if we could take a break,” Dave writes on his website, teddave.com.

Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters­ picked up the idea and it spread to the U.K., New Zealand, France, Norway, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere. Buy Nothing Day celebrants can go on a zombie march through stores to mimic mindless consumers, turn slow circles in malls with empty shopping carts (the Whirl-Mart), or just unplug from consumer-related activities. Critics point out that the putting off your purchases for a single day doesn’t really do anything, but the point is made nonetheless.

Expanding Opportunities

For retailers, the growing number of international retail holidays and increased market share of online sales means being aware of traditions outside the home country that offer sales opportunities. For consumers, retail holidays mean more shots at a good deal on something, which may cause them to tighten the purse strings until the deals get sweeter.