A 'Black Friday' shopping ritual coming to Mexico?

Shoppers at a Mexico City department store
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Nothing like a good sprint of shopping to beat back the blues, the thinking often goes among American consumers.

Hoping to put the idea into practice here in Mexico, the government is calling on all citizens to shop, shop, shop this holiday weekend. It's an effort to give Mexico a retail ritual like the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States.

The event is dubbed "El Buen Fin," a slangy way to say "The Good Weekend" (and a decidedly lighter phrase than "Black Friday"). It is meant to boost the service and consumer goods sectors with deals on merchandise and credit over four days, and is another example of private-public synergy that sometimes characterizes Mexico's conservative-led government.

Along the way, Mexicans might also momentarily forget the doom and gloom of the drug war and the country's wider economic woes, including persistent unemployment and rising poverty.

The "Buen Fin" kicks off tomorrow and runs through Monday, when the Mexican Revolution is observed.

An extended weekend in Mexico is known colloquially as a puente, and President Felipe Calderon used the term with a sly smile when he announced the initiative last week -- just days before the helicopter crash that killed his interior minister, Francisco Blake Mora.

"Plus, it's puente. Let's take advantage and shop, take a trip, consume," Calderon said. "With El Buen Fin, families win. They'll be able to get clothes, shoes, a television, perhaps a computer."

But not everyone is going along with the party.

The country's consumer protection commission warned shoppers against reckless credit purchases that could inflate their debt over the long term. The commission, known by its acronym CONDUSEF, said that buyers should "prioritize" their purchases.

"Consumers should focus on products that have a long life of use, like domestic electronics, a refrigerator, an oven, televisions, stereos, car tires and computers, principally," a spokesman told El Universal (link in Spanish). 

Analysts say that Mexico's retail sector has been gaining in recent months ahead of the Christmas shopping season, and the government appears serious about its plan to boost consumer transactions nationwide over the next four days.

Calderon announced via Twitter that all federal employees would receive an early chunk of their aguinaldo, the revered Christmas bonus that helps push spending in Mexico into the New Year.

It's unclear yet whether Mexico's malls, department stores and shopping centers will be overrun by shoppers camping out in parking lots or busting down doors to grab the best deals. The initiative's website has a splashy video showing ordinary Mexicans eager to splurge at the stores, and cites the various private and governmental groups backing the cause.

"It will be the cheapest weekend of the year," the president proclaimed.

ALSO:

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-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Shoppers flock to a sale at a Mexico City department store on Aug. 23, 1995. Credit: Claudio / Associated Press

 
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