Italy is now celebrating “Black Friday”– but without the turkey. In fact, while it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, it is nevertheless a relatively new fad in Italy that has become almost as widespread as the customary day-after-Thanksgiving consumer showdowns in the United States. Although relatively new, it seems to be firmly entrenched. While until a few years ago its start and ends points were clear—it was the day after Thanksgiving and that’s it—its boundaries have become ever-blurrier, just as they are stateside.
Pre-pandemic, journalist and fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote that Black Friday has “leapt beyond United States borders to establish itself in other countries and continents, to become just another shopping day in a sea of shopping days.”
In Italy, Friedman’s take holds up. The hazily defined deep-discount period stands in stark contrast to traditional Italian saldi (sales), which take place in clear-cut, region-by-region timeframes, outlined by the business confederation Confcommercio, in the periods between the first Saturday of January until February 28, and the first Saturday of July until August 31.
You may see “Black Friday” signs— in English —in shops all over in Italy in November, but it hasn’t been recognized in any official capacity. Unlike during designated sale periods, shopkeepers aren’t obligated to slash their prices; until recently, in fact, merchants advertising Black Friday discounts could actually be fined up to €1000 for violating laws that prohibit sales promotions in the 30 days leading up to the government-regulated saldi periods. This only changed in 2016, when the City of Milan approved the request of a merchants’ association to participate in Black Friday without the risk of being fined. The group advanced their claim by citing overwhelming competition from major e-retailers.
Today, after the City of Milan’s deliberation, merchants all over Italy can choose whether or not to participate, with neither obligation nor risk of penalty.
But Black Friday mania in Italy is taking a backseat to the bigger-picture mood, as there are many issues that top the list of consumers’ concerns. 90% of Italians are anxious about the rising cost of living, 79% about climate change and 78% about the Russia-Ukraine war, creating a general reluctance to splurge on gifts this holiday season, according to a new report from consulting firm Bain & Company Italia, carried out in collaboration with survey platform Toluna.
Titled the Italy Shopping Outlook, the report surveyed more than 1,000 Italian adult consumers on their holiday season spending habits and plans. Around 80% of the respondents said they will curtail or contain their Yuletide purchases this year, with 50% explicitly stating that they plan to cut back. This was true across nearly all income brackets — with the exception of the recession-resistant affluent, or those categorized by the surveyors as “high-income.” (60% of that group expects to spend more than they did last year.)
The report also reflected how Italian approaches to shopping are shifting. While a majority of those surveyed still like to shop in-store — welcome news for local merchants and merrymakers — most Italians (62%), including brick-and-mortar devotees, say they conduct research online ahead of their in-store visits.
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