Black Friday: ’Tis the day to Shop Online


Ukraine /

The day this issue is published, November 27, is the official Black Friday. From now, there are 26 days to Christmas Eve, when Hungarians exchange gifts. In the past month or so, my own household’s contribution to global e-commerce has risen heroically.

Photo by Ukraine /

But, as Hungary’s lockdown results in empty streets and malls, I find I’m changing my priorities.

Black Friday refers to the Friday after Thanksgiving, when the Christmas shopping season starts in the USA.

The idea that Black Friday is so-called because it’s the day retailers make truckloads of money and go “into the black” has never sat right with me. I associate putting the word “black” before a day with disaster. As in 1987’s Black Monday, the worst stock market crash in Wall Street’s history.

Sniffing around online, I found Casey Bond’s 2019 Huffington Post article “Black Friday History: The Dark True Story Behind The Name.” This confirmed my suspicions.

The term Black Friday is most likely to have originated in Philadelphia sometime in the late 1950s or early ’60s. It was coined by traffic police in the city of brotherly love who came to dread the day because of traffic jams, crowds and chaos caused by people flooding into the city to shop.

In the 1980s, the phrase spread across the United States. From there, it went global. In 2019, digital Black Friday sales alone were up 14% on the previous year. Salesforce, the U.S. customer relationship software company, estimated that total global digital sales were around USD 20 billion. No doubt they’ll top that this year.

But the surge in orders on Black Friday is going to put even more pressure on international carriers. At a time when they’re enforcing social distancing in their distribution centers, which impacts back on efficiency.

It sounds glaringly obvious but there’s no point even considering ordering something via the world wide web if it won’t be shipped to Hungary in time, or even at all. Before you fall in love with something online, check it can actually be sent here first.

Some do, Some Don’t

If you’re ordering from Amazon, some suppliers ship here, others don’t. It may only be me but every book I’ve ordered has taken weeks to arrive.

The bulk of our online ordering is clothes and we’ve found that brands that deliver to Hungary usually take around three weeks.

Should a brand not ship to this country, we have what tech experts call a “workaround.”

This involves compiling a list of family and friends in the United Kingdom or America willing to receive a delivery from a brand inside their country, repackage it and ship to Hungary. Some people find doing this a nerve-racking chore and respond passively-aggressively.

They’re the ones who wrap packages in so much ultra-heavy packing tape it’s as if they think something living is going to attempt to claw its way out of the package. They’ll give you a yawn-by-yawn account of what it was like to stand in line at the post office while simultaneously insisting that sending the package was no problem.

But the unlikeliest people love sending packages to us. I have a friend in London, a spectacularly hip graphic designer, who actively encourages us to send stuff to him so he can send it on.

When his packages arrive in Hungary, they’re little works of art. Right down to the calligraphy employed to write our address. I was going to write that it seems a shame to open them but that’s not true.

Beaming from ear to ear, my partner attacked the latest package with a pair of scissors, slashing through the artfully layered brown tape with glee to reveal the carefully positioned items inside.

You know Marie Kondo, the decluttering expert? I’m trying to persuade my pal that he should become the male Marie of parcel packaging.

Byzantine Form Filling

The rules and regulations for shipping to the European Union from America appear to have suddenly become more byzantine. The result is that, to avoid paying some kind of Hungarian tax on items, you have to fill in a spectacularly complicated form and email it to the authorities.

If you’ve ordered a surprise gift from the States and your mastery of Hungarian isn’t sufficient to wrestle the form into submission, things can get a little tricky. Particularly if, like me, the only person you know who can complete the form is the one for whom the gift was intended to be a surprise. Takeaway: if you’re ordering from the United States, be careful.

Recently, I interviewed a guy who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” A satisfyingly blunt dude, he believes that success in business is down to instinct and luck.

The online retailers set to make a killing on Black Friday would probably admit privately that they’ve been extremely lucky in 2020. Personally, I feel less and less inclined to contribute to their already gargantuan profits.

Yesterday, when she came back from the eerily empty mall, my partner told me that Szeged’s Christmas fair is possibly being canceled. For many people, this is the time when they make the money that will support them into the new year.

While I can’t buy something traditional and artisan made for my designer pal in London from a Christmas Fair, I can support our local shops.

Picture the scene. ’Tis the night before Christmas. In a minimalist apartment in London’s Shoreditch, a slim figure dressed all in black opens a parcel with a Hungarian postmark using Japanese Sasuke scissors crated by master blacksmith Yasuhiro Hirakawa.

Inside are a pair of classic and weirdly stylish red tin fish soup bowls with handles, a bar of pungent traditional licorice soap and a package of fine Szeged smoked paprika. All sourced from bricks and mortar stores in Szeged.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 27, 2020.

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