Egypt’s Black Friday sales are popular, but challenged by country’s economic woes

Egyptian shoppers filled major shopping malls in Cairo on Friday, as shops and e-commerce websites announced major “Black Friday” sales this year. Shoppers at Cairo Festival City, Mall of Arabia and City Stars reported that malls were packed by midday but complained that the sales were disappointing.

Black Friday is the day that follows Thanksgiving in the United States, and usually marks the start of the Christmas season sale there. Shops open very early, sometimes overnight, and offer large discounts. In Egypt, Black Friday sales (or White Friday, as online shops call it) is a very recent phenomenon.

#بلاك_فرايداي (Black Friday in Arabic) became a trending hashtag, with thousands of social media users inquiring about sales, while others gave tips on how and where to buy online.

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Media outlets reported on the long queues in malls.

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Mada Masr spoke to several shoppers following the sales inside malls or online, and all of them agreed that although Black Friday sales have existed in Egypt for at least the past two years, this year it is much more popular.

The shoppers attributed a rising consumer interest in Black Friday to Egypt’s economic crisis, which intensified this month following the complete flotation of the Egyptian pound and the partial lifting of energy subsidies. These economic measures were taken by the Egyptian government as a requirement to receive a US$12 billion IMF loan to deal with a severe budget deficit, low foreign direct investments and a severe currency problem.

Most shoppers expressed concern that Black Friday sales could be their last chance to buy goods at reduced prices, as they anticipate that prices will rise even higher due to the flotation. But despite the huge turnout on and offline, many shoppers complained that the sales did not meet their expectations.

“Many of the shops did not offer sales in the first place. Many of the outlets fooled the customers,” said Raghda Kamal, who spoke to Mada Masr while shopping at City Stars. “A customer will choose a certain product with a certain price, only to discover when paying that the real price registered in the system is much higher. I saw many people leaving goods they intended to buy at the counter because they were fooled in this way.”

Some other shops had another trick. “You see the ticket on the product claiming that the price has been reduced from LE1000 to LE600, for example. When you remove the sale ticket, you discover that the product’s original price was already LE600,” Kamal claimed. “It’s a fake sale.”

Kamal said she had heard about Black Friday sales in Egypt before, but this was the first time for her to shop them, simply because “Prices are really high, and everyone wants to have the chance during a good sale.”

Ahmed Saeed bought a pair of shoes and tablet online. He told Mada Masr that he followed Black Friday sales last year, but only started to buy this year. “The economic conditions are very difficult,” he explained. “People are desperate for sales.”

Saeed reckons that last year’s discounts reached 90 percent, while this year’s discounts are 50 percent at most.

“Companies are not willing to offer good sales. The economic situation is difficult for everyone,” he said, agreeing with Kamal that there were a lot of fake sales. “Before the sale, a Tefal pan was LE1850 in a major retail store. I decided to wait until Black Friday, only to find that the price online was LE2400, apparently down from LE2800.”

Nirvana Atef used to buy online from the US during Black Friday sales, but due to the limits recently placed on online credit card use and the dollar crisis, she bought a phone from an Egyptian online store this year.

“Everyone is searching for a deal and thinking that this is the last chance to buy discounted stuff before inflation gets more crazy,” she explained. After finishing her online shopping, Atef headed to a mall to buy a gift for her sister, only to find that the store was also “fooling” its customers. “They doubled all the prices, so I bought my sister a gift and knew I was buying it at the original price.”

Marketing expert Hatem Seoudi told Mada Masr that this year witnessed a surge of online shopping in Egypt, with more brands selling their goods online. “Many brands in Egypt had no presence whatsoever on Egyptian e-commerce websites, they were only selling in stores or via other retailers,” he said. “Now they’ve moved directly online.”

With the economic crisis, the same products are being sold at wildly different prices at different places. As a result, Seoudi said, Egyptian consumers have become more aware of the need to buy at a fair price.

“People know that their purchasing power has decreased tremendously. The prices are very high and it’s hitting everyone,” he said, adding that he believed online stores are pushing prices down and enabling consumers to find fairer prices.

Hend Mahfouz bought an iPhone from a store near her home. The store did not announce a Black Friday sale, but Mahfouz showed the seller the price of the phone in an online Black Friday sale to negotiate a better price, and she succeeded.

“I bought an iPhone for LE13,400. It was only LE7,000 three months ago. It’s all due to the flotation of the pound and the dollar crisis,” she said. “It was cheaper online, but can get as high as LE15,000 in shops. So I showed the price of the phone today to the seller, and pushed him to give it to me with a fairer price.”

For Mahfouz, online shops are now a parallel market offering tough rivalry to normal stores, and that can’t be a bad thing.

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