Blog>Black Friday and Sustainability: Understanding the Ethical Shopper
Black Friday landed in the UK around ten years ago, and has quickly become one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Bargain hunters get up at the crack of dawn to search out the best deals on the latest gadgets, goodies, and gifts for the upcoming holiday season.
However, many consumers, especially those concerned with sustainability, see Black Friday as an overindulgence in materialism that puts a strain on workers while adding many more unsustainable materials to the world.
To many, Black Friday is a celebration of overconsumption. Huge sales and exciting events push consumers to buy more products than they have planned for. Aside from more unnecessary goods that took energy and resources to manufacture and ship, this contributed to a number of other issues.
CO2. A report from money.co.uk calculated that online shopping conducted on Black Friday in 2020 released around 430,000 tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Buyers remorse. The same survey also revealed that 24% of shoppers regret their Black Friday bargains
Waste. A staggering amount of returned goods are actually sent straight to landfill. In 2020 this amounted to 2.6 million tonnes in the US alone.
For these reasons, many consumers have shifted their views and now see Black Friday as an exercise in corporate manipulation. Sales that are “too good to pass up” are putting consumers in conflict. Conscious consumers are actively avoiding Black Friday sales because they see them as simply an attempt to increase consumer spending.
In 2021, Black Friday traffic dropped almost 30% from 2019 according to a study by Sensormatic Solutions. Many experts are predicting that the 2022 Black Friday sales will see even lower foot traffic from consumers.
The same study has shown that more people are electing to do their Black Friday shopping online if they purchase anything at all. The data indicates that consumers are spreading their holiday shopping throughout Autumn and are less likely to spend their holiday budget during Black Friday.
This suggests that the Black Friday craze that has swept the nation over the past decade is in decline.
Another force behind the shifting consumer attitude towards Black Friday is the harsh working environments that it creates for employees that work in retail. Black Friday is often a hectic day with an early start and late finish.
With an already increasing labour shortage in many retail spaces, Black Friday pushes employees to longer hours, and conscious consumers care about the working conditions that their money supports. Many believe that Black Friday sacrifices those employees’ well-being in exchange for higher profit margins.
Big discounts and huge volumes is another thing that works much better for bigger retailers. The Amazons and ASOSs of this world are the real winners, while independent shops don’t have the margins or stock to make a decent profit on an item sold at 50% it’s usual retail price.
There has been a movement among conscious consumers to support local and independent businesses. Websites such as Shoplocalonline.org and Bookshop.org, and Facebooks Groups such as Not on Amazon, which are designed to showcase and generate sales for independent shops across the country,
Although Black Friday is often frowned upon by consumers who are conscious of sustainability and ethical practices, no one can deny how profitable and valuable the day can be.
And in 2022, with run-away inflation rates and a cost-of-living crisis, there appears to be more interest in Black Friday than in 2021. Research from LoyaltyLion suggests that two thirds of UK consumers are more interested this year, while almost 70% are actually waiting for the sale to make a purchase.
Ethical brands need to carefully consider their approach to Black Friday, but whichever route they take, should make a point of proving to customers that they both value sustainability and respect employees above the profits of the day.
Black Friday sales are all about providing a unique incentive for consumers to purchase your product or service. Sustainable brands can shift the focus of Black Friday to helping others rather than helping themselves. Instead of providing cheaper products, consider offering a percentage of each sale to a relevant charity or cause.
A number of apparel brands donate between 5% and 15% of their sales over the Black Friday weekend to the charity Fashion Revolution, which campaigns for better working conditions for workers and a more sustainable industry. For more information, you can read our blog on Cause Marketing.
Brands could consider only offering reductions on products that are sustainably made and packaged on sale during Black Friday sales. This will encourage the typical customer to choose to go for a sustainable product and show conscious consumers that your brand is dedicated to staying sustainable despite a perceived potential profit loss.
Last year, luxury fashion brand Nanushka limited its 50% sale to items in its collection of upcycled clothing.
Last year, many sustainable brands and independent shops chose to boycott Black Friday. The anti-Black Friday movement has been gathering pace, with 2021 being the biggest boycott to date.
A number of retailers actually closed their stores, we saw brands change up their website so that only those with passwords (mailing list subscribers) could actually buy anything. Swiss bag maker Freitag turned their site into a “Tinder-style” bag exchange app, while Raeburn handed their physical store over to resale platform Responsible, so visitors to the store could shop second hand and sell back their own items in exchange for credit.
And my personal favourite Build a Bundle, the second hand children’s and maternity clothes retailer, closed their stores to go and spend the day plant trees.
Although these could be called ‘stunts’ they were planet positive, imaginative, and connected with their audiences. They’re a great example of ethical marketing and an inspiration in a market that has for too long glamorised the bargain.
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