Black Friday Panamanian Style

Holiday shoppers at Albrook Mall.

Holiday shoppers at Albrook Mall.  Image thanks to La Estrella.

“Black Friday” or, the Friday following Thanksgiving Day (this year 2013 will be November 29th), has been a commercial tradition since the 1950’s and the term was first coined in Philadelphia where it originally was used to:

describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.

Later on, according to Wikipedia,

an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss from January through November, and ‘Black Friday’ indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or ‘in the black.’”

The idea, as is traditionally done in the United States, is to start holiday sales (Christmas and Year End sales) out on the right footing and entice customers with discounts that are presumably hard to resist . Well, so much for a history lesson on Black Friday.

In Panama, Black Friday is a concept that has only been gaining limited acceptance since 2010 when it was first promoted in the major shopping malls such as Multiplaza, Albrook Mall, Metromall, etc. Following the American example, Panama’s businesses, however, hold at least two Black Fridays, one on Friday past on November 22 and the other on November 29, 2013.

Most retailers that have joined the Black Friday “lure” offer discounts of up to 70 % on clothing, footwear, toys , perfumes, household goods , office and even in cars. The idea, of course, is to drive sales up as with the North American marketers.

According to La Estrella, Black Friday and the following week’s shopping “frenzy” in Panama, was also prompted by travel agencies in Costa Rica which offered packages selling Panama as a place to find good deals and shop.

Ernesto Orillac, vice minister of Panama’s Tourism Authority, said that a sharp increase in visits to our country is expected for the last week of November and December. Panama is, in fact, touted as a shopping destination in Brazil, Colombia and Central America, as the authorities seek to turn the last week of November and early December  into shopping days. “The Tourism Authority has worked for years with Copa Airlines, Avianca and other airlines in Central America to transform the country into a shopping destination, ” said Orillac.

The country does not expect, as in the United States, for consumers to form long lines to enter a store trampling everything and everyone in sight, snatching merchandise, and generally going into a buying frenzy- not yet. This erratic and reprehensible behavior has been my personal and nerve racking experience with Black Friday’s in the United States. On a realistic level, however, retailers here expect a much larger consumer presence on the premises of the stores in order to inject Panama’s commercial outlets with some of that extra income from holiday savings.

Panamanian people still do have faith in their Christmas Club savings which they’ve squirreled away all year round and, starting on December 1, when the banks allow account holders to empty their Christmas savings, there is a significantly greater circulation of cash on the streets. In addition, many of the banks have spent most of the year promoting their credit cards to their account holders, hoping that they will take the bait and use their cards to “shop ’til they drop.”

Panamanian shoppers are also becoming more cautious with so-called “discounts” that do not exist what with past years’ dishonest baiting and switching and totally mis-represented offers.  So, retailers might be in for a surprise in their bottom line.

Black Friday and the start of Holiday shopping, in fact, is a subject near and dear to our hearts as the Silver People who once populated the Black Canal Zone and the urban centers of Panama gave the American culture behind Thanksgiving and Christmas American style, a foothold in Panama.  The black Silver Roll workers and their families used to use their holiday savings and earnings from their jobs on the Zone and on the military bases to buy their traditional hams and turkeys in the Commissaries and P.X.’s as well as within the retail stores in the cities.

During this time of the year they would infect the rest of Panama’s population with their Christmas cheer and hopes for a better New Year.  Today, no Panamanian home is ready for the holidays if it isn’t decked out with a sumptuous holiday table with turkey and ham and its dressings and the living room must be decorated with a beautiful Christmas tree.  All this is thanks to the West Indian Silver Roll who implanted this wonderful tradition.

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