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The American Holiday Africa Has Adopted: Black Friday

FILE - Shoppers walk past South Africa's Mr Price clothing store in Johannesburg. First National Bank of South Africa says its cardholders made purchases worth more than 2.5 billion rand last Black Friday, and a sizable jump was expected this year.

Forget Thanksgiving. In Africa, consumers are forgoing the turkey dinner and family drama. Instead, they are, in huge numbers, celebrating the bonanza that comes the day after:

Marketing website Black Friday Global estimates that Black Friday sales are 1,331 percent higher than average-day sales in Nigeria and 1,952 percent higher in South Africa, the continent's two largest economies. In Nigeria, the average Black Friday shopper spends about $60 U.S.; in South Africa, it's just over twice that amount per shopper.

South African economist Mike Schussler, who estimates that the adopted holiday has been observed in South Africa for about a decade, said he thought Black Friday “has become a little bit of a worldwide phenomenon — particularly, I think, in countries where consumers are very much needed by the retailers, where retailers have had to entice consumers from their tight spending into the shops. And in South Africa and a few other places, the end of November is normally the time period when people get what we call their Christmas bonus or their annual bonus."

On the rise

And the phenomenon is growing. First National Bank, one of South Africa's largest financial institutions, reported this week that its cardholders made purchases worth more than 2.5 billion rand — that's a cool $169 million U.S. — last Black Friday, and it expected to see a 16 percent increase this year.

In the world of electronic commerce, Black Friday has been a game-changer, said Abdesslam Benzitouni, a spokesperson for Jumia, a Nigeria-based shopping site that operates in more than 10 African countries. Black Friday, which Jumia started promoting in 2014, is now so big that it has eclipsed a single day, he said. He declined to give sales figures.

"Just last year, we had more than 120 million visits on our website,” he told VOA from Nairobi. “And this year we're expecting to have more than 150 million visiting our website. It was one day — Black Friday was on Friday. Then we went to one week. And now it's one month for us."

Good for African enterprises

So what are African consumers buying? More or less the same stuff shoppers are buying everywhere else, he said: electronics, phones, televisions, clothes. But although many of those items are not made in Africa, this consumption binge is, Benzitouni argued, a good thing for the continent. Many of Jumia's vendors, he said, are small, local African enterprises.

"Imagine tomorrow, if we have this African free trade market between African countries, we can have, like, a seller from Nairobi who can sell directly to Nigeria or Ghana. … Black Friday is just an opportunity to promote this e-commerce. So we are creating an infrastructure and visibility for a new digital economy," he said.

Or maybe it's just a good day to get a sweet deal. Whatever the reason, in Africa, it's open season for Black Friday.