Black Friday Tradition Spreads Across Latin America, With Or Without The Turkey

An Extra superstore in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Anna Kaiser)

An Extra superstore in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Anna Kaiser)

Black Friday in Latin America, when there isn't even a Turkey Thursday?

Versions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday now take place on a variety of scales in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru and Brazil. This North American import continues to grow every year, although not without some controversy.

Mexico City saw a 12 percent increase in Black Friday sales, and Pedro Eugenio, the founder of the Brazilian discount website Busca Desconto that helps organize online sales in that country, is predicting $146 million in online revenues, a 60 percent increase compared to 2012.

Mexico’s version, which actually took place Nov. 15 to 18, is known as "The Good Weekend" ("El Buen Fin"). Even though it isn't tied to Thanksgiving on the calendar, it produces scenes of trampling and confusion similar to those in the United States. 

This year’s Good Weekend generated $12 billion in sales for eighty thousand outlets in Mexico City according to Jorge Dávila Flores, the president of CONCANACO, the national federation of chambers of commerce. 

In Brazil, one of the world’s fastest growing consumer countries, Black Friday sales started late Thursday night. While a large part of the action occurs on the Internet, superstores like Walmart and its Brazilian equivalent, Extra, hold large sales that draw crowds of thousands.

“People yelling and grabbing,” is how Elaine Ferreira, an employee at an Extra in Rio, described the scene. “People line up and burst into the store. If there’s a good deal on some electronics like TVs, people will buy 10 or 15 of them.”

“Last year, I went to the stores but I bought 90 percent online," said Diego Duarte de Sousa, a 26-year-old financial analyst from Rio. "You don’t have to confront the chaos in the stores.”

Despite a financial crisis, middle-class Argentine consumers scramble for deals during as a way to beat the high inflation.

Paula Di Virgilio, a 32-year-old banker and Buenos Aires resident, has been underwhelmed by previous Black Friday sales, but was more positive about this year. “Last year the discounts were not good," she said, "but this year I have read that multiple brands have signed on to Black Friday."

But Di Virgilio also points out a major problem with Black Friday sales in Latin America. “Honestly, buying outside the country can save you a lot more,” she said.

Mexican stores usually mark down less than outlets in the U.S. do, and items on sale in Brazil still remain far more expensive than the U.S. prices because of high tariffs on foreign goods.

And retailers in both Mexico and Brazil have been caught raising prices in the weeks before sales events in order to offer them at the "discounted" original price. In Brazil, this scam has come to be known as “Black Fraud.”

Thursday night, Extra superstores were draped with black banners reading, “Thousands of offers – here it's true,” but the Estado de São Paulo newspaper reported Friday morning that Extra, along with other stores, have had hundreds of complaints filed against them on its Black Friday "Black List.”

But Black Friday shoppers in Latin America are hopeful that the tradition will continue to grow. “I sincerely think it’s a good thing in Latin America if it’s done right,” said Di Virgilio.

“We’re still behind the United States’ Black Friday in quality of products and the organization of the stores,” said Rio's Duarte de Sousa. "But I think this a start."

Anna Kaiser is a journalist based in Rio de Janeiro who covers public security and urban development issues.

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