Black Friday 2015 is on November 27th. It's a huge American shopping event but in 2014 it exploded across the rest of the world in unprecedented fashion.
Websites crashed, sales records were smashed and shoppers ravenously scooped up deals on tech, games and clothing in what was in many countries the biggest weekend of online shopping in history.
Adobe crunched the numbers and reported that on Black Friday in the US last year consumers spent a record-breaking $2.4 billion - up an extraordinary 24% on the previous year.
Walmart-owned ASDA stores moved 8,000 TVs before breakfast and made 130 sales every second throughout the day, while GAME's website was selling PS4 and Xbox One consoles to British gamers at a rate of 3,600 per hour.
It was an international spending frenzy the like of which the internet had never seen before.
The numbers were so big that websites fell over like Victorian ladies on a hot day, with HP, Best Buy, Currys, Tesco, Argos, Boots and Game's websites all requiring smelling salts.
The Currys website in the UK crashed despite the company having implemented a system where users had to queue to use it, a queue that was still over an hour long by lunchtime.
The chaos isn't over, either. Black Friday 2015 is now just six months away and it promises to dwarf last year's stats in almost every way. Online retailers are already planning for it.
You're much safer online...
Of course, Black Friday is not by any means a phenomenon that's confined to the virtual realm.
It was conceived originally as a unit mover for high street retailers, a way for stores to shift a lot of stock at a time when most people in the US have time off work for Thanksgiving.
And while Black Friday chaos online led to websites crashing, bedlam on the highstreet tends to be a lot more troublesome.
Last year, fighting broke out in many stores in the UK, with Police being called to supermarkets including a number of Tesco stores which were heavily criticised afterwards by police. In Scotland, one supermarket had to be closed due to the excessive number of people trying to push their way inside.
While in the US, it's not unheard of for bargain hunters to pepper spray each other in an attempt to get the best deals...
Clearly - it's much safer to stay at home and pick up your deals on the internet, and that's what the majority of people did on Black Friday 2014.
To give you an idea of just how busy the sites were, John Lewis and Currys - two of the UK's biggest retail websites - both saw their web traffic triple compared to Black Friday 2013. Meanwhile, TechRadar's own Black Friday pages attracted more than 1.6 million page views.
So it's no exaggeration to say that the pre-Christmas retail landscape was changed forever on November 28 last year. Retailers knew Black Friday 2014 was going to be big, but it actually ended up being far bigger than they ever imagined.
So what lessons have they learnt, and what can we as consumers expect from Black Friday 2015?
Lessons from the past
Some retailers were like ducks on Black Friday last year: they may have appeared calm, but under the water their little legs were going like crazy.
Some stores totally panicked, as Patrick O'Brien of retail analysts Verdict Retail told TechRadar:
"Some retailers like Amazon planned promotions well in advance, but others were sucked in when they saw the scale of Black Friday and realised that without promotions, they would lose out on footfall or website hits in a key spending weekend."
The upshot? Those retailers cut prices even though they hadn't originally planned to.
"Those retailers ended up losing margin as they typically went for a percentage cut across numerous or even all lines, rather than having planned promotions that they could have organised with the help of their suppliers," O'Brien says.
Winners and losers of Black Friday 2014
Not everybody was hurt, though. Some firms used Black Friday as cover. "The weather meant that clothing retailers had a lot of stock left to shift, so they used the cover of Black Friday to mark down stock."
And others had deals in place with their suppliers to deliver apparent bargains, with stock bought in especially for Black Friday.
You can see the Black Friday winners and losers in ComScore's UK figures for November 2014. The big winners were mainly large electrical, digital and entertainment retailers, with Amazon, Argos and Tesco at numbers 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
In America, meanwhile, we're seeing an interesting shift: the Black Friday money is moving to Thanksgiving instead.
According to IBM, Black Friday sales were 63.5% higher than Thanksgiving Day sales - but last year they were 70%. For US consumers, Black Friday is increasingly becoming a shopping weekend that starts on Thanksgiving and ends on Cyber Monday
Indeed, Cyber Monday is bigger than them all for US customers - last year's Cyber Monday was the US's biggest online shopping day ever.
Where does all the money come from?
One of the most interesting questions about Black Friday is whether it created new demand or just brought forward people's Christmas shopping by a few weeks.
The answer appears to be the latter - Verdict Retail found "no evidence that it stimulated demand" - and some retailers' panicky discounting was tantamount to shooting themselves in the foot.
Essentially, the Black Friday frenzy moved a lot of stock, but that stock was less profitable than usual.
AO.com founder and chief executive John Roberts used the firm's annual report to note that Black Friday "did not produce incremental sales, but condensed sales into a shorter time period", while GAME issued a profits warning because its heavy discounting on games and consoles had a negative effect on its bottom line.
In the US, IBM reported that while overall sales were up, the average order value was down across both Black Friday and Thanksgiving.
That might explain why John Lewis boss Andy Street has poured cold water on the idea of Black Friday, telling the BBC that "We've got to ask if it's right to concentrate trade so much in that one period… I don't think we can put the genie back in the bottle but do we need to stoke that fire any more? I personally hope not."
Street predicts that Black Friday 2015 will still see lots of deals around electronics and computing, but says he hopes that fashion brands and other kinds of retail would be "more confident holding their price."
As Patrick O'Brien points out, though, John Lewis's "never knowingly undersold" guarantee means that if rivals go crazy on Black Friday 2015, "it cannot opt out!"
Rubbish for retailers, excellent for everyone else
If you take a step back, Black Friday should really be called Foolish Friday. Slashing profit margins during the busiest shopping period of the year for no good reason doesn't make much sense, not least because it gives retailers less room to manoeuvre if sales closer to Christmas need some extra oomph.
But as John Lewis's Andy Street said, the genie's out of the bottle - so if retailers don't take part, they'll see their rivals get all the business.
And that's why Black Friday 2015 is likely to be another step up in terms hype and excitement.
Expect even more commercials leading up to Black Friday, bigger headline promotions and even more chaos.
"Black Friday is here to stay," Patrick O'Brien says, "but it will be a lot different in 2015. Retailers are planning for it."
You can be sure that retailers are already talking to their suppliers about the kinds of promotions they can support, and that the deals we see this year will be what Verdict describes as "geared toward gaining footfall and upsetting to full price goods rather than across the board percentage discounts."
What deals can we expect this year?
It's impossible to know for sure which products will receive the biggest discounts this year, but we can certainly make some predictions based on what we saw in 2014.
One of the hottest products on Black Friday last year was the iPad mini and that will likely be the case again in 2015. In fact we'll likely see some highly attractive deals on many Apple products, partly because they're so popular but also because there is room for manoeuvre in their prices.
Last year in the US we saw the Macbook Pro and 21.5-inch iMacs selling for $900 a pop, with Macbook Airs available for $780. In the UK the iPad mini was going for under £150 practically everywhere.
It's worth retailers offering us these headline products with big discounts because they expect that we'll buy more than one item once we're on their site.
It's a safe bet also that Black Friday 2015 will see the cheapest-ever PS4 and Xbox One deals as well as some irresistible bundles. If you fancy buying your kids a console this Christmas, wait until November 27.
We saw many amazing deals on TVs last year so if you're interested in buying a 4K TV in time for Christmas, again you'd be wise to wait for the Black Friday deals madness to begin.
Last year in the we also saw amazing soundbar deals, DualShock 4 game controllers for under half price, Google Chromecasts for under $23/£18, huge savings on iPhones, amazing deals on cameras of all shapes and sizes from all the biggest brands, headphones, fitness bands, speakers.
You get the picture. Expect more of the same...
This year Black Friday falls on November 27th
Quick links US:
- Amazon.com - Black Friday homepage
- Best Buy - Black Friday 2015 deals
- Wallmart - Black Friday homepage
- Target - Black Friday landing page
- AT&T - Special Offers homepage
- Verizon - Black Friday deals
- Toys 'R' Us - Black Friday made easy
- Gamestop - Black Friday deals