A few years ago in Ho Chi Minh City, there were hardly any signs of Black Friday, other than a big banner on a downtown mall. The banner was odd. Vietnam doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving — an entirely American holiday. So why would it be promoting Black Friday — the post-holiday retail frenzy that kicks off the Christmas shopping season.
The short answer is that ever since Vietnam embraced the capitalist ways of the West, consumer materialism has been steadily surging across the country, and the former Saigon has embraced it wholeheartedly.
Across the city, malls, clothing brands, eye clinics, tech outlets, shoe stores and hair salons have plastered their stores and social media with Black Friday sales, many of them promoting 30% or 50% or 70% off. As early as a week ago, you could already spot billboards announcing Black Friday deals. Even airlines like Vietnam Airlines and VietJet are promoting deals on flights or merchandise.
Black Friday is a mirror of Vietnam’s economic ambitions. With one of Asia’s strongest economies, a growing middle-class, swelling urban centers and a young population, Vietnam has been a magnet for international retailers and brands, which also are accustomed to rolling out Black Friday promotions outside of the United States, from London to Dubai. In this form of globalization, other retail-driven Western holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day are also taking hold.
“The Vietnamese adoption of foreign traditions, celebrations and shopping events can sometimes be mind-blowing,” said Thue Quist Thomasen, the chief executive of market research firm YouGov Vietnam. “Hence, it is no exception that Black Friday is capturing Vietnamese consumers' attention.”
How the shopping holiday will play out this year in Vietnam is uncertain. Retail sales slumped for much of this year as the country suffered a major outbreak of COVID-19. But with lockdowns lifted, retailers are using Black Friday to lure consumers back. (The “Black” in Black Friday, typically indicates the day when retailers get out of the red and make a profit, moving into the black.)
According to a YouGov survey, 6 out of 10 Vietnamese consumers are inclined to stock up on items during sales. But the loss of family income this year during the pandemic has resulted in 8 out of 10 consumers responding that they would cut back on non-essential spending, the survey showed.
Still, Thomassen said, “We project that Black Friday would still be a big hit with huge promotion packages happening in most retailers during this time.”
In America, Black Friday has creeped from a single day to multiple days and it also spawned an online shopping equivalent called Cyber Monday. Vietnam has been hyperactive on the online front, establishing digital sales events named after matching days and months, like 11.11 on Nov. 11, which is a holiday called Singles Day that originated in China.
For Black Friday, e-commerce giant Lazada in Vietnam is offering vouchers with 100,000 VND discount for orders over 1 million VND.
“Amid the current complicated context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lazada will keep widening the assortment and strongly promote essential categories such as groceries and healthcare,” the company said. “Besides, fashion and electronics categories also are our priorities to meet the customers' need to return to the ‘new normal’ life.”
Thomassen noted that Black Friday fits into the strategy of businesses adopting trendy promotional events to improve customer experiences. The YouGov survey showed that 46% of Vietnamese said that they are tired of dull shopping experiences, and the figure was even higher at 49% for Gen Z.
Are Black Friday deals really worth it?
So what do young consumers think about Black Friday in Vietnam? Here’s a sample:
Tuan, millennial tech enthusiast
“My experience was it completely depends on which deal you’re talking about and how much you know about the actual value of the item in question. For instance, just this week, I saw an early Black Friday promotion and at first, I was hesitant because it’s too early and I might get a better deal the closer it gets to the actual Friday. When I checked this morning, it went crazily low (more or less $150 difference) so I got it before someone else will. It’s not really a practice for me, but the deals I get from this massive sale over the past two years are totally worth it. I’m into tech items, I hope Cyber Monday will be as big as Black Friday in Vietnam next year.”
LA Nguyen, millennial office staff
“I don’t visit malls that often; I shop online most of the time for clothes and house supplies. I’m a huge ‘double date’ fan. I’m kind of ashamed to share this, but I save at least 4 million VND ($200) per month for the 9.9; 10.10; 11.11 sale. With Black Friday coming up, one of my most favorite times of the year, I’m ready to go out and spend more than I used to every month. So far, I have my eyes on the dyson hair dryer, hoping I could take one home at a discounted price. Last Black Friday, I managed to save up to 10 million VND, so yes, it’s worth it!”
Trang, gen z graphic designer
“More than the material items, I’m on the lookout for travel deals. I’m planning to spend Christmas somewhere in a remote but high-end hotel and any discounts I can get will really help me allocate it to more activities or items in my itinerary. I did the same thing last year, spent the weekend in a hotel complete with spa treatment and I saved a lot, slashed almost 50% of the total bill thanks to their Black Friday offerings. With COVID, I don’t expect to get that much of a deal this time but I’m still positive I’ll get lucky tomorrow.”