It's Time to Redefine Black Friday

As sustainability becomes a core value for consumers around the world, more and more companies start shifting their focus to align their practices with sustainability practices. We witness different approaches and refusals to participate in Black Friday around the world. Some well-known companies even came up with alternative options to promote sustainability on Black Friday. 

For example, this year, Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA came up with the idea of #BuybackFriday campaign. The company aims to buy used furniture from their customers and resell or recycle them to promote sustainability and circular economy. 

Climate activists also voice their disappointment with overconsumption. Last year, some climate protesters in France renamed #BlackFriday2019 as "Block Friday", to raise awareness about overconsumption and its negative effects on our environment. BBC reported that a large number of people gathered around Amazon headquarters in Lyon to sabotage Black Friday sales. 

Similarly, here in Skosh we also decided not to get involved in Black Friday sales for the sake of the environment. We believe that the simplest things in life bring the most joy and pleasure. We aim to bring convenience and affordability every day to people’s lives as opposed to Black Friday campaigns. 

Zachi Brewster, an environmental strategist for environmental rewards app Earth Rewards, mentioned four negative outcomes of Black Friday in general:

  • Production 
  • Packaging
  • Shipping 
  • Waste of old products 

Manufacturers produce more products than ever to meet the demands. Black Friday increases the unnecessary production because people buy the products they don’t need just because it’s cheaper. The Guardian mentions that consumers in Europe bought more clothes but spent less money in doing so since 2000. Consequently, suppliers also manufacture more packaging materials for shipping, which contributes to waste production. When it comes to shipping of items, online marketplaces usually offer Black Friday deals on shipping price as well as reduced shipping time that leads to a higher carbon footprint. Besides, because shoppers usually replace old products with new ones that they found for a much lower price, old products are usually thrown away and create more waste. 

Here are some ideas to combat these negative environmental effects of Black Friday:

  • Buy used or recycled products
  • Buy experiences instead of material goods
  • Wrap your gifts in reusable, recycled materials instead of plastic

Let’s dig deeper now. 

In one of the episodes of the famous American TV sitcom “Friends”, Monica tries to purchase her dream wedding dress for a very low price and to do so, she “recruits” her best friends Phoebe and Rachel to help her. They go to the store early in the morning and each of them gets one whistle to “alarm” others when they find the right dress. Eventually, one of them finds the right dress and tries to take it to the register. However, there’s one more stubborn, committed person who wants to have the same dress. Monica grapples with her and manages to “win the battle”. 

Somehow this episode resembles Black Friday shopping behaviors and if there’s something more we can learn from that episode, it’s that the hunting for a good and cheap product is more than just “shopping”. 

How we ended up calling it Black Friday is unknown, but according to urban myth, the first time in 1965 a traffic police in downtown Philadelphia used the phrase “Black Friday” to describe a group of shoppers and the traffic caused by them. Nearly two decades after, in 1980, for some reason, retailers started using red ink to show losses and blank ink to show profits in their accounting practices. So, based on this we can say that on Black Friday stores focus on being “black”, meaning that they aim to make more profits than they spend. 

There’s been some interesting research done by different scholars to understand consumption behaviors on Black Friday. These research projects help us understand the “why's of Black Friday better, thus, see a clear picture of what’s going on. 

For example, in one of these research projects, Jane Boyd Thomas and Cara Peters talked to 38 female whoppers in the US over 2 years. 

Interestingly enough, they concluded that Black Friday resembles a “military mission” for consumers. Similar to a military mission, Black Friday shopping has some steps:

  • The first step is to gather together a group of reliable people who are willing to “fight” for the same purpose. It’s usually family members, friends, or other close people.
  • The second step is a planning stage. Group of people formed in the first stage map out the action plan, for example, which stores to target, when to start, what to do in case of interruption, and so on.
  • Then comes the actual battle. The group tries to find the best deal and fight for it. 
  • End of the “battle”.

Funnily enough, when the researchers talked to people, consumers also used military-related words to describe Black Friday rituals, such as “adventure, survival, mission, expedition, war stories”. 

David Kanter and Oskar Källström from Jönköping University also conducted similar research but focused on Black Friday online shopping habits in Swedish context. They tried to find out what motivates people to hunt for Black Friday bargains. They identified two main types of motivations for Black Friday shopping habits. They called them utilitarian motivation that is related to practicalities of online Black Friday sales and hedonic motivation that is related to feelings evoked by Black Friday purchases. 

Black Friday online sales are more convenient because it’s easy and time-efficient to order and pay. Consumers can buy products for a low price from the comfort of their homes. Not to mention discounts people get, as a part of Black Friday sales. In addition, it’s relatively easy to compare products, read information about them, and see reviews from people who had actually tried them before.

When it comes to feelings of pleasure associated with Black Friday offers, there’s more. It turned out website design overall and browsing new products creates a feeling of enjoyment that enforces final purchase. Online shopping also comes with the possibility of choosing one’s payment options, whether consumers want to pay by swish, credit card, invoice, etc. and it creates a sense of authority & status. Another interesting point is that Black Friday deals are related to different types of value expression. For example, people feel smarter when they find a good product for a lower price. Feeling of excitement during the “waiting period” to receive the order and unwrapping the package are also a part of value expression. 

So, if we conclude these research conducted in different contexts and cultures, we can see that on one hand, Black Friday behaviors are a reflection of familial bond and togetherness like in every other holiday. On the other hand, Black Friday purchases are the result of a combination of complex motivations. What these research tells us is that in contrast to what many people think, Black Friday is not mainly about discounts. It’s about comradeship, feeling of enjoyment, authority, value expression, and excitement. 

Back to “Friends”, Monica eventually gets married in a different dress, realizing that as long as she’s with the person she wants to be with, it doesn’t matter what she wears. Similarly, a familial bond, feeling of enjoyment and pleasure can be attained whether we manage to get that “amazing” Black Friday deal or not. Let’s not get caught up in the temporary excitement and pleasure Black Friday brings this year and try to be conscious about our consumption habits. Because every tiny step matters.