Who says you need Thanksgiving to have Black Friday? In 2010, Brazil saw the introduction of the infamous shopping holiday. Companies responsible for 80 percent of all online sales in Brazil are participating, including TAM, Lojas Americanas, Submarino and, of course, Wal Mart. According to Folha de S. Paulo, sales are expected to reach R$390 million (about 168 million USD), a sixty percent increase from last year.
Black Friday, which retains its untranslated English name in Brazil, has its own website to promote the businesses that are offering sales. On “Why It’s Worth Shopping on Black Friday” the site argues, “It’s necessary to call attention to the fact that Black Friday is an internationally recognized concept…Stores that participate in this worldwide grand day of sales end up working for the lowest price, facilitating a possible customer loyalty so that they return to look for Christmas presents. In other words, the store guarantees good prices and the consumers guarantee the search and therefore the purchase. Everyone wins.” (Emphasis theirs)
This idea sounds great, but has yet to materialize. Last year’s Black Friday earned the nickname Black Fraude with the slogan “metade do dobro” or roughly, “half off of twice the amount.” A number of retailers raised prices drastically days before Black Friday, so as to supposedly provide deep discounts on the day of mass consumption. The consumer protection website Reclame Aqui (“Complain Here”) received about 8,000 complaints last year.
In response, the Brazilian Chamber of E-Commerce introduced a code of ethics to promote fair business practices among retailers this year. A number of other sites and organizations dedicated to protecting consumers such as the Instituto para Desenvolvimento do Varejo (Institute for Retail Development) will only advertise retailers’ sales if they agree to certain conditions. Stipulations include that they must provide adequate customer support via telephone or online, offer reasonable discounts without previous price hikes, and have infrastructure in place to support the high web traffic.
Despite these measures, Globo reports that already Reclame Aqui has received 400 complaints before Black Friday has even started. A month ago, the average price for the iPhone 5 was R$1,199 (517 USD). Now it’s at R$1,760 (759 USD).
With all the negative attention given to companies’ abusive practices (the majority of news stories about Black Friday I’ve seen have been centered around the price hikes and consumer complaints), it will be interesting to see how many Brazilians will venture out and spend. Their actions will undoubtedly dictate how retailers will conduct their businesses on future Black Fridays (which is why I’m not spending my reais this weekend). But unfortunately unfair business practices, whether it be by retailers, phone companies or banks, are all too common in Brazil — Black Friday is simply an amplified example. While it’s encouraging to see action taken by the private and public sectors to promote consumer protection, the Brazilian government needs to go further to protect its citizens throughout the year.