Most holidays have their origins in specific territories, cultures or religions. But globalisation increasingly allows the impact of these big dates to ripple out to other communities.
Black Friday is a case in point. It apparently first got its nickname from Philadelphia police officers and bus drivers, who dreaded the smog and traffic jams created by post-Thanksgiving shoppers1.
More recently it has become a day of discount deals and consistently record-breaking retail sales, first in the US and now globally.
But even the massive numbers generated by what is now a long weekend culminating in Cyber Monday – USD14.5 billion in the US and GBP7.8 billion in the UK in 20172 – are put in the shade by impact of its Chinese equivalent.
Black Friday was the inspiration for Jack Ma, founder of Chinese retail giant Alibaba, to build retail excitement around a specific date.
He chose November 11, Singles Day – until then, traditionally a quirky way for unattached Chinese to celebrate their status in a culture that tends to emphasise relationships.
In less than a decade, Singles Day has outstripped Black Friday’s record: 2018 saw retailers coin more than USD30 billion, supported by a lavish celebrity line-up and an effort to tie online buying with bricks-and-mortar shopping3.
The impact has gone far beyond China itself. Foreign traders are now encouraged to sell to the vast Chinese market on Singles Day, while Russia and the US are among the top foreign markets snapping up Chinese goods on the day.
Each October 1, China marks the founding of the People’s Republic. Many are able to stretch National Day into a full-blown holiday known as Golden Week, travelling to destinations within and increasingly outside China.
The 2018 week saw domestic tourism revenue climb by 9 per cent over 2017 as the Chinese went on the move. And an estimated 7 million of them travelled abroad, with Japan and Thailand among the most popular destinations4.
The UK also benefited, with one study suggesting payments to retailers through Chinese platforms such as Alipay and WeChat Pay surged by 30 per cent during the week5.
A mere 1 per cent of Japan’s population is Christian, but Christmas is a firm fixture on the calendar, albeit a largely secular one6. More specifically, Christmas Eve is celebrated, partly because it marks the end of the school year and follows the public holiday of the Emperor’s birthday on December 23.
In Japan, Christmas Eve means romance. It is largely seen as a date night. Restaurants are packed with couples, and prices soar accordingly. The tradition is so firmly entrenched that one Tokyo spaghetti restaurant has earned publicity by repeatedly banning couples on the big day.
It’s not just the high end of the market that benefits. For the unattached, young families and anyone else alienated by date night, fried chicken has long been seen as a cheap and tasty alternative to turkey. So queues at KFC outlets are a common seasonal sight – the chain took in 6 billion yen (around GBP41 billion) over Christmas 20177.
The Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends Muslims’ month-long observance of Ramadan often involves gift-giving, buying new clothes and eating out.
Studies by advertising platform Criteo suggest online sales rise during Ramadan, with a spike of 52 per cent in South East Asia and 80 per cent in Indonesia8.
UK retailers have been generally slow to wake up to the potential of what is estimated to be a GBP200 million-plus Ramadan economy in this country9. However, that is changing: this year several national brands began packaging goods as Eid gifts, while London’s Westfield shopping centre staged its first Eid festival.
Research suggests that the UK’s 4 million Muslim population largely welcomes this expanding consumer choice. It’s an example of how, with sensitive handling, traditional holidays can also become a source of economic opportunity.
1Why is it called Black Friday, Business Insider, November 2018
2Black Friday in Numbers, World Economic Forum, November 2017
3Alibaba sets new Singles Day record with more than $30.8 billion in sales in 24 hours, CNBC, November 2018
4China's smaller cities help drive 'Golden Week' tourism, CNBC, October 2018
5UK retailers get 30% 'Golden Week' sales boost, Retail Systems, October 2018
7KFC Japan says it earned Y6 billion over Christmas weekend, Japan Today, December 2017
8How to Prepare for Ramadan Marketing: Understanding Shifts in Shopper Behaviour, Criteo, May 2018
9Fun, fashion and halal lipstick: retailers cash in on £200m Ramadan economy, The Guardian, April 2018