By now you’ve more than likely heard of Black Friday, the annual discount shopping event that has taken the world by storm over the past 10 years. The event marks the start of the festive shopping season and is one of the biggest sales periods for retailers, who offer customers major discounts across their range of products.
You may be wondering where Black Friday came from, why it’s spread across the globe and why some companies are opting out and taking a stance against it.
In this blog we aim to give some insight into Black Friday, its potential downsides, why some major retailers are choosing not to take part at all and what they are doing instead.
What is Black Friday?
Black Friday is typically the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States and marks the start of the holiday shopping season.
The event goes as far back as the 1950’s in America, with some speculating that the name is derived from the day being so profitable for companies, that it took their accounting ledger from being in the red (negative) to being in the black (positive).
It has also been speculated that the true meaning of Black Friday comes from Philadelphia in the 50’s, where police forces and emergency services were so overwhelmed with the huge influx of people coming into the city to start their Christmas shopping, that they started to describe the craziness of this day as Black Friday.
What is Cyber Monday?
Cyber Monday is typically the Monday after Thanksgiving and marks the end of this heavily discounted shopping window.
Cyber Monday started as e-commerce stores' answer to Black Friday and the term was originally coined in 2005 by shop.org . It started as a way for online retailers to get in on the massive spikes in sales that brick-and-mortar stores were seeing in their post-Thanksgiving sales.
Now the lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been blurred, as both physical and online stores tend to take part in both days. It has now merged into a heavily discounted sales weekend, kicked off with Black Friday and closed out by Cyber Monday.
When did Black Friday start in the UK?
Amazon introduced the UK to the huge sales event in 2010. But it wasn’t until 2013 when Asda, then owned by American company Walmart, started to take part in the sales that Black Friday really became established in the UK. It has grown bigger and bigger every year with more companies getting involved and is now a hotly anticipated annual event for consumers and retailers.
Are Black Friday marketing campaigns successful?
In 2022, it was reported that consumers in the UK spent a record £9.4 billion over the Black Friday weekend, with 61% of this being spent on online shopping. The National Office for Statistics reported in 2017  that year on year retail sales were rising each November, likely attributed to the success of Black Friday. So, it would seem that the holiday season shopping event is giving businesses a big boost to November sales, particularly to online sales. However, it is not all positive when it comes to Black Friday, as the rest of this blog post delves into.
The problems with Black Friday
Black Friday deals
It can definitely be said that a lot of purchases made on Black Friday are not essential. A lot of what is being purchased are simply impulse buys, with people lured in by the promise of big discounts, exclusive deals, flash sales and free stuff.
This leads people to buy things that they would not ordinarily have bought. Self.inc surveyed shoppers in America, with 2 in 5 (42%) people reporting that they have regretted their Black Friday purchases .
There are legitimate environmental concerns surrounding Black Friday as well, with environmentally conscious brands, like Patagonia, opting out from taking part in the shopping event. Not only are there concerns about increased pollution from extra deliveries and increased traffic, but there are major concerns over waste. The Green Alliance reports that up to 80% of items bought on Black Friday, including the packaging, are thrown away after a few uses, with some items not being used at all .
With environmental concerns being at the forefront of discourse around the world, if you are a brand or a company that aligns itself with the need to be more environmentally friendly, then taking part in Black Friday may be counter to this and you could come across as hypocritical to potential and current customers.
Consumer group Which? reported in 2022, that after an analysis of more than 200 Black Friday deals, they found that 98% were cheaper or the same price at other times in the year.
Which? also analysed seven major home and tech retailers across 6 months to see when the cheapest time to shop was. They found that of the deals they analysed, 183 or 86% were cheaper or the same as their Black Friday sale price in the six months before the sales event .
This helps to show that a lot of the time the discounts that are being offered during Black Friday sales are not always the best offers. Customers can end up feeling cheated if they then see the same product cheaper at another point in the year and may decide to not buy from you again.
Another problem with Black Friday is that the over-consumption caused by the sales leads to massive demands placed on factory workers, particularly in poorer nations. These people are typically already overworked and underpaid and so placing this extra burden upon them to meet the demands of consumers for a weekend sale, raises major ethical concerns.
This is highlighted by the fact that garment workers in Bangladesh have started protesting and striking every year against Black Friday . A lot of Amazon warehouse workers across the world have a similar stance against Black Friday and have protested to raise awareness for the conditions they are put under to meet the demands of Black Friday . Customers have become more aware of these issues now and will be reconsidering if getting a good deal on Amazon for Black Friday is worth the conditions that their workers will have to endure.
Awareness of these issues has led to many companies opting out of Black Friday, with some brands now discouraging their customers from taking part. Instead, they are using their voice to try to raise awareness of the impact that we are having on the world. These campaigns and initiatives are having a great effect on the way people see Black Friday and what it stands for and it's making people think twice before making a purchase.
Alternative Black Friday marketing campaigns and initiatives
There are plenty of conscious brands leading the fight against Black Friday by not taking part or having awareness campaigns instead, with some even donating Black Friday profits to charity.
A lot of these alternative Black Friday campaigns are proving to be very successful and it helps them to show what kind of companies they are and what it is that they stand for. So although they may miss out on a boost of sales over one weekend in November, consumers remember these campaigns and it helps them build brand loyalty and awareness, whilst also spreading a positive message.
Deciem, the parent company of skincare brand The Original, has come up with a clever way of not taking part in Black Friday whilst also getting in on the sales that come at this time of year. With their initiative ‘Slowvember’, they close their e-commerce and physical stores on Black Friday itself, so no one can purchase from them on the day. However, they do hold a month-long sale across November, so they still take part in a way whilst turning their back on the frantic greediness of Black Friday .
A great campaign called Green Friday, aims to turn Black Friday into Green Friday. This initiative wants to combat the chaos and impulsive spending that runs rampant on Black Friday, instead turning it into a day where people get outside, exercise, spend time with family and generally be nicer, more mindful and creative. It’s a great idea that is starting to catch on and has a really positive message that they say is very much the opposite of everything that Black Friday stands for .
As previously mentioned, Patagonia is a very environmentally conscious clothing brand that champions a lot of causes, particularly ones that promote being more eco friendly and sustainable. In 2011 they ran a Black Friday campaign in The New York Times, with an article titled “Don’t Buy This Jacket’. They actively told people not to buy from them in an attempt to raise awareness for the environmental footprint that over-consumption was having. They encouraged people to buy less and for businesses to make fewer things but of higher quality. They also encourage people to bring their faulty or damaged products in to them to get repaired rather than buying new from them, a sentiment that is counter to how most businesses operate .
Footwear brand VivoBarefoot launched what they’ve dubbed their ‘recommerce’ site, where they resell shoes that they have repaired. They actively encourage customers to send them their old shoes to be repaired and they want customers to buy these repaired shoes rather than new ones. Their Black Friday marketing campaign includes the line “Give the planet a break this Black Friday, check out our reconditioned footwear” .
Swedish furniture giant Ikea also runs an alternative Black Friday campaign that they have called ‘Bring Back Friday’. In the weeks leading up to Black Friday, they encouraged their customers to bring back their old furniture so that they could give it a second life. They state that this not only saves their customers money, but it saves all the raw materials and energy needed to make a new piece of furniture as well .
In conclusion, there are a lot of factors that are starting to be considered by customers when making a purchase on Black Friday and the effect that this shopping event is having on workers and on the planet. To make this worse, customers are starting to wonder if they are even getting the deal that they think they are getting, combined with the fact that they could very likely end up regretting or even wasting items they have purchased.
Obviously, Black Friday can be great for extra sales, however when deciding on your Black Friday marketing strategy or whether to take part, it is wise to take a moment to consider the impact this day has on people and the environment, and whether taking part aligns with your business' brand values and its stakeholders.
- Wikipedia Cyber Monday
- Black Friday growth by sector
- Black Friday shopping regrets
- Green Alliance building a circular economy report
- Which? Black Friday deals
- Black Friday Strikes
- Amazon Black Friday Strikes
- DECIEM slowvember campaign
- Green Friday
- Patahonia Black Friday campaign
- Vivo Black Friday campaign
- IKEA Black Friday campaign