Black Friday: Is It Time For It To End?

Every year at this time, we see the same images: people waiting hours in the cold, obsessively checking websites on their laptops, trying to ensure the best deals. Retailers bombard us with emails and ads to remind us to be ready for the busiest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. 

And this year, it takes place on 23 November. Electronics, furniture, clothes, accessories… All kinds of products are to be sold. The figures are -unsurprisingly- impressive: this year, online and in-store sales in the UK, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Belgium are expected to reach 29.438 billion euros (approximately £8.38 billion), so a 147% increase since 2013*. In 2017, 36% of British adults planned on taking part to Black Friday -and Cyber Monday – whereas this year that number has gone up to 62%: they plan to spend an estimated £7 billion*.

And with the explosion of e-commerce and big players such as Amazon, consumers tend to spend their money mostly online. Black Friday, which started in the UK fewer than 10 years ago, has become a global phenomenon -Alibaba’s Singles’ Day in China, a comparable spree, witnessing a record high in 2018 of £23 billion spent by internet users in 24 hours. The event started in the 1950s /1960s in the United States as a way to celebrate the festive season. The day after Thanksgiving, the fourth Friday of the month becomes “Black Friday”. The origin of its name is unclear, with some saying it acquired this name because of heavy traffic conditions the day after Thanksgiving or marked the date that retailers make a profit and so shifted from red into the black.

It represents the zenith of consumerism, defining shopping for shoppings sake, to make ourselves feel better, be sociable or gain validation. At times where businesses have to demonstrate a meaningful commitment towards sustainability, what’s the point of Black Friday in 2018? When we know that Britons throw away £12.5 billion worth of clothing every year*, that global fashion production has doubled in size in the past 15 years, that fashion is one of the most polluting industry in the world, isn’t Black Friday completely out of the date and sending the “wrong message” to consumers? How could brands still claim exclusivity in such a commercial frenzy?

In “Shopping with violence: Black Friday sales in the British context”, published in the Journal of Consumer Culture, Oliver Smith and Thomas Raymen write that  “the disorder and episodes of violence that accompany it are indicative of the triumph of liberal capitalist consumer ideology while reflecting an embedded and cultivated form of insecurity and anxiety concomitant with the barbaric individualism, social envy and symbolic competition of consumer culture”. It is also interesting to note that many consumers describe their Black Friday experience with positive words; and the apparent need to purchase can be linked to the anxiety of missing out. The promise of a bargain turns into a form of revenge.

Black Friday is really a psychological thing. It persuades consumers that they’re getting the very best price that exists. But last year, 21% of Britons purchased something on Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) that they later regretted*. It is not surprising given that only 28% of European women wear more than a half of their clothes and 72% women use less than half of their wardrobe*. The rush and the urge of mega sales encourages us to consume as much as possible and promote a throw-away culture. They press us to replace things too quickly, instead of repairing our goods and push us to accumulate stuff.  And with extremely attractive bargains, we forget the value of the product and we forget what quality is. The problem with huge discounting events such as Black Friday is that any feeling of exclusivity or originality in the product is eroded in direct relation to how cheap and accessible they are.

In this respect, it seems difficult to really cherish and take care of things. Instead of buying new things, we need to celebrate keeping things for a long time. That said, Greenpeace organizes its “Make Smthng Week”,  an intended alternative to this mega-moment of consumerism. Baume Watches are also celebrating ‘Blue Friday’, donating 20% of their sales to ocean conservation, along with other companies such as Dice who are donating a percentage of their profits on this day to help refugees.

At these times, it is urgent to look at ourselves and think about what we really need. In terms of fashion, buying vintage or renting our wardrobe with high-quality or luxury products represents a meaningful and interesting alternative. We should be looking for items that respect the world we live in. It is only if we purchase products that have stories and / or that have already had a life that we will be able to act in a sustainable way. More than the super bargains, shouldn’t we celebrate beautiful stories?

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