Online or on the high street? That is the question.
With an avalanche of higher food, fuel and energy bills hurtling towards hard-strapped consumers, many of us will be hoping to bag some bargains this Black Friday.
While the marketing emphasis is on the day itself, everyone knows the deals and offers start earlier each year as retailers attempt to outdo each other with their tempting wares.
But this year, Black Friday brings with it a major dilemma for shoppers, coming as it does at a time when the powers that be at Stormont are imploring us to minimise human contact wherever possible.
So where does that leave the high street?
Retail staff, for instance, don’t have the luxury of working from home. Should they encourage people into the premises, or try to keep them out?
What’s not in doubt is that, if we don’t support our bricks and mortar traders, pretty soon that option will be removed.
Of course, some consumers may still have a pound or two left on their Spend Local cards, which Stormont decreed must be spent in physical stores — no contradiction there then.
Take a walk around Belfast city centre and you’ll see scars from the pandemic everywhere.
Specialist stationery boutique Paperchase — which was almost lost to Covid-19 but was saved at the eleventh hour — has downsized and recently moved to the other side of Arthur Street, beside popular fancy goods and cafe chain Avoca.
Opposite it, fashion retailer Cath Kidston is gone and in its place sits Anthropologie, where a fancy cat cushion will set you back over £100.
We said an untimely farewell to the Disney Store last month and many parents will miss it in the run up to Christmas. And let’s not forget the biggest casualty of them all — CastleCourt shopping centre’s flagship department store Debenhams, which always attracted Black Friday shoppers in their droves.
It shut its doors on Royal Avenue for the last time in May, leaving a void in the hearts of devoted shoppers. It’s soon to be replaced by a nine-screen luxury cinema.
The changing face of shopping in Belfast is mirrored in cities and towns across Northern Ireland. There are fewer stores, big names have gone, with charity outlets and coffee shops the new norm.
Unsurprisingly, Black Friday has also changed. It’s no longer a day-long sales bonanza, offering shoppers deals galore.
Signs in shop windows are calling it ‘an event’ or, for fashion store White Stuff in Corn Market “it’s Black Fortnight”.
At least there’s no lockdown. This time last year, another one had just begun.
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Plus there is always our own Black Friday deal.