It’s that time of year again when your email inbox starts filling up with newsletters written by graduate scheme interns with the caps lock turned on proclaiming ‘BLACK FRIDAY SALE’.
Personally, I use this time to discover just how many mailing lists I’m still unknowingly subscribed to. And then I go through one by one and unsubscribe to them all. It’s a great feeling.
For many people, Black Friday is a chance to grab a bargain on that new smartwatch you’ve been eyeing up for the last 5 weeks, or the chance to get all of your Christmas shopping done in one fell (and cheaper than usual) swoop.
For the companies and factories that make all of these products, however, it can be quite an intimidating time of year – retailers don’t want to miss out on the masses of profit they can make in a single weekend and so they set out to put pressure on manufacturers and suppliers to create twice as much of their product in half the amount of time. People go into overdrive and are forced to work through the early hours of the morning just to get enough stock on the shelves. And all of this comes just 4 weeks before Christmas – a time already notorious for the pressure it puts on manufacturers.
This doesn’t even take into account all of the raw materials that are consumed to make this surplus of products. People often use Black Friday as an opportunity to replace old gadgets or to refresh their wardrobes in advance of the Christmas season. But what does this mean for our old stuff? A lot of it gets thrown out. Each year sees a spike in air pollution and landfill disposal in the weeks post-Black Friday – you might think that by purchasing things online you will reduce the carbon footprint created by driving to a physical store, but a lot of the increased air pollution is thought to come from the delivery vans that drive people’s Black Friday treasures up and down the country. We also tend to use the things we buy on Black Friday for less than two seasons. Impulse buying drives lots of unnecessary sales and means the post-Christmas-useless-gift-disposal dump is heavier than usual.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Black Friday actually means that we are financially worse off. If these items didn’t go on sale at such crazy reductions people wouldn’t be as frivolous with their money in the build-up to Christmas. We all know it’s an expensive time of year so why, all of a sudden, are people willing to part with so much cash in one weekend?
The worst bit is that until about 5 years ago, we lived without this weekend.
But enough with the negatives. Where does this leave us and what can we do about it?
If you are participating in the sale season, the best thing you can do is to give yourself a few extra minutes before you click the checkout button or whip out your card from your wallet. Think about whether the purchase you are about to make is a necessary one. Is it replacing something that is genuinely beyond use? Are you buying something that you could 100% justify a need for? If someone were to ask you why you bought it would you feel guilty or struggle to find a sensible reason? If you can answer those with yourself and feel satisfied then go ahead. If there’s a need for something then it’s as good a time of year as any to get something for a little bit less. If you can’t then maybe reconsider the purchase. You can walk away gloatingly happy that you’ve done your bit. Maybe pour yourself a glass of wine to celebrate, it doesn’t matter that it’s 11am.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, the biggest way to reduce our Black Friday footprint is to not participate at all. It’s simple, but not a lot of people do it. There’s no getting around the fact that if you simply don’t buy anything then you’re avoiding contributing to any of the aforementioned wastage and pressures of demand.
So the customers are reducing the amount they buy. What about the companies that drive these sales? Shouldn’t they be responsible?
Yes. They should. And there are companies around the world that are doing Black Friday right. Take Patagonia‘s 2018 tactic – instead of discounting their products, they donated all sales profits between Black Friday and Cyber Monday to a charity that helps clean up waterways from plastic and other types of pollution. This year, clothing company Kotn is donating 100% of its profits during the same period to a project that builds schools for the children of the farmers in the Nile Delta that produce their cotton, reducing the illiteracy rate and pushing for education equality between men and women in the area. It’s estimated that these sales will be enough to build two new schools – the company has already built five since it was founded.
These companies are setting an example. If we put all of the money that we throw at Black Friday into charitable work we could make a huge difference to the lives of others. Both companies and consumers can do better. If you really feel the desperate need to part with some cash this weekend why not consider shopping from a company that’s making a little bit of a change? Or, even better, donate the money directly to a charity of your own choosing?
Slowly but surely we can turn one of the darkest days in the annual retail calendar into something positive, a weekend of giving rather than mindlessly taking for ourselves.