A brilliant opportunity for retailers to make sales, and for consumers to access value?
Or an exercise in encouraging people to replace or buy excess stuff that they don’t need, with negative implications for the environment?
Black Friday is only days away, but the advertising momentum, promotions, and deals are starting. In fact, Black Friday has now become more of a ‘season’ than a one-off day. It’s now just over ten years old as a concept in the UK, having been started by Amazon in 2010 as a day to offer discounts to customers, and then went on to be adopted by other large retailers, followed by, well, pretty much everyone.
The name originated in the US and has two main origins, one in the 1800s when the US Gold Market crashed, and then applied to a day in the 1950s after Thanksgiving when police were made to work to manage large numbers of crowds in Philadelphia.
Strangely Black Friday originally reflected a negative situation, but then became connected with a positive day.
But is it?
Admittedly, there’s money to be made, and saved. In 2019, £5.6 billion was spent in the UK over Black Friday weekend. That’s quite a lot.
But over the years Black Friday has been marked by websites crashing, customers disappointed and frustrated, punch ups, pile-ups and even broken bones in the frenzy to buy more stuff, cheaply. With much of Black Friday now operating online and extending into Cyber Monday, the fisticuffs may be a thing of the past, but is there a more serious long term issue lurking underneath the concept?
Excessive buying goes against efforts to protect our environment
Environmental campaigners like us work hard to try to change the nation’s mindset on mindless buying. With so much plastic and other waste going into landfill and into the ocean, levels of waste pollution are at crisis point.
Some of the biggest culprits and contributors to this are products like plastic toys, fast fashions, and cheap electricals. And these items feature heavily in Black Friday promotions.
So what happens to the old stuff, no longer wanted once we’ve laid our hands on the new sparkly cheap bargains? Well, it’s likely to just end up in landfill.
Yes, of course, there’s recycling. But recycling is not the whole answer – it’s just part of a solution. Not buying excessively, making what we have last, repairing, refilling, reusing, these are the ways to genuinely protect our planet, environment, and our limited resources.
Black Friday symbolises a fast, throwaway culture, one completely at odds with the efforts of many world leaders, and genuinely ethical and eco-friendly businesses, to address climate change.
Smaller businesses can’t compete
Remember ‘shop local’? ‘Support small businesses’? ‘Buy made in the UK’?
These commendable campaigns promote supporting the smaller businesses which make up the backbone of our economy. But they can be undermined by Black Friday. Most of the brilliant deals we see are only possible due to being mass produced and shipped from overseas, or because of the profits made by large corporations.
Compare that to a smaller UK based business like ours. Our costs don’t go down because it’s Black Friday, and they aren’t easy to get down. Most of our costs come from the high-quality materials we use, and from paying and treating our staff and supply chains fairly. To us, these are non-negotiable business practices.
When Black Friday comes around and businesses like ours are put under pressure to discount our prices, it does no-one any favours. It devalues excellent brands, puts us in an uncompetitive position, and turns conversations to price rather than quality and experience.
It’s not just us, and that feels good
Whilst big money and sales will change hands this Black Friday, just as in previous years (less so during lockdown), there is a feeling that the tide is turning, the appeal waning, and attitudes changing.
Some high street brands such as M&S are moving away from Black Friday deals and have done so for a few years now. They prefer to exert the claim that they offer good value all year round, not just on one day a year.
Last year saw an anti-Black Friday backlash from some eco-minded brands who actively challenged the concept. Swedish brand Allbirds actually put their prices up for Black Friday, donating the additional funds to a climate change charity. Patagonia put out an advert boldly stating ‘do not buy this jacket’ in an effort to combat throwaway fashion culture. And we loved GiffGaff’s ‘check your drawers’ campaign which encouraged finding and recycling your old phones.
Let’s calm down and not just carry on
Amid the chaos of Black Friday, let’s just pause, take a breath, and think about what it stands for and the legacy it may leave.
Let’s think about the impact on our planet, pollution, smaller businesses, and the culture we want to encourage for future generations.
At Little Soap Company, as a genuinely eco-friendly challenger brand committed to putting people and planet before profit, the whole concept of Black Friday just doesn’t sit right.
We use our products and brand to educate, support communities and nature, and make a difference. We are committed to doing it all year round.
And we believe a few pennies off our products one day per year doesn’t come close to the value of that.