While being one of the numerous skeptics about Black Friday in Nigeria, new mom, Victoria Feyikemi, kept refreshing the pages of leading e-commerce sites, Jumia and Konga, in search of the best offers for baby monitors. Eventually she gave up when she couldn’t find any and went on Twitter to join those that were mocking the Black Friday offers by Nigeria’s top e-commerce platforms.
“My approach seems to be the best way to deal with Black Fridays in Nigeria. Keep refreshing the web pages maybe you will be among the extremely lucky ones that would get any of the very few great deals,” said Feyikemi. She was critical of the retailers “non-existent offerings.”
Monitoring conversations on social media and interacting with Nigerian online shoppers revealed a lack of trust as many shoppers believe the e-commerce companies are simply trying to boost their sales without offering really great discounts.
Tech blogger, Wale Ladipupo said the concerns of customers are quite valid since the major platforms had given online shoppers several reasons to be suspicious of their Black Friday deals. “We’ve had situations where prices of products are jacked up few days before Black Friday only for the added amount to be removed and they say that was a great Black Friday deal,” he said. “Consumers are not stupid, they can see what they are doing.”
He also mentioned cases where Black Friday prices of products seen online were significantly higher than the price of products in stores. But in spite of these concerns, the two major Nigerian e-commerce companies continue to announce bigger sales each year and they’ve made Black Friday sales a month-long event.
While the American concept of Thanksgiving is pretty much unknown in Nigeria, Black Friday sales have become increasingly popular. The Nigerian version of Black Friday sales was started online in 2013 by Jumia and Konga, who wanted to recreate the excitement of rush retail sales which became popular in the United States decades earlier as the day after American Thanksgiving.
The first Nigerian edition became a successful experiment when both websites crashed temporarily, every online sales record was broken and the e-commerce platforms recorded the highest traffic in Nigeria’s online retail history. Since then, Black Friday has become the most popular event on Nigeria’s shopping calendar and continues to wax stronger yearly as more companies join—online and offline.
Now, slowly, but surely, the search for Black Friday deals is becoming an offline experience.
As early as 8am on Friday morning, lines started to build around the iconic Cocoa House in Ibadan, about just over two hours from Lagos. Shoppers were targeting Black Friday sales at the Cocoa Mall outlet of Shoprite, the South African supermarket chain. They began to arrive just in time to collect flyers featuring the special Black Friday offers. By lunch time the outlet was packed full with the store management struggling to keep up with orders.
By 5pm, the supermarket had already run out-of-stock of popular items like Indomie noodles, geisha and malt drinks. Empty boxes were everywhere, queues remained long and late shoppers were seen rummaging the shelves for leftovers.
“I’ve been here for almost three hours now, this happens yearly since they opened this store and every edition attracts more people although most of them are traders at Agbeni Market who will resell what they’ve bought today at higher prices to make more profit,” said Ayo Adeoye, a middle-aged high school teacher.
Locals say the traders have informants among the store workers so they know the best deals to target in store with lists and buy in large quantities even though the supermarket limits the number of items a customer can purchase.
“You know a Black Friday deal is great when you see market sellers being patient enough to wait for three hours or more to buy the same items they sell in their shops,” says Adeoye.
In a clear clash between the power of formal retail distribution versus independent informal retail, local traders say they pick up these items in a Shoprite because manufacturers and distributors refuse to offer them the same generous discounts.
“No thanks to past experiences, they no longer trust that we will sell to customers at discounted prices,” says one local trader, who simply identified herself as Mrs Yusuf. ”They used to do it before but they discovered that we wouldn’t change our prices, so they stopped. Nowadays, they only work with Shoprite and other major supermarkets. But here we are, they can’t get rid of us that easily,” she said.
Just like in other cities in the country where stores like Shoprite exists, an informal ecosystem has been created around Black Friday in Nigeria. It includes the big stores, manufacturers but also store workers and local traders. But it even includes commercial taxi and bus drivers who have marked Black Friday on their calendars to provide transport to people who buy in bulk. There are even shopping spies sent by other store owners in order to compare offers and convince shoppers that their store has better offers.
Comparing the Black Friday performances of offline and online companies, Ladipupo argued that the real winners are the offline stores.
“Jumia and Konga combined cannot sell more products than one Shoprite supermarket in Lagos, Owerri or Ibadan on Black Friday. This is because supermarkets have largely been trusted over the years by customers and manufacturers to be honest and truthful with their Black Friday offers,” he said.