When we google the phrase ‘Black Friday’ the search engine automatically fills it in with what it presumes the user wants: ‘Black Friday Deal’.
Do we really live in such a consumer-driven world, or is there a hope that times are changing?
Black Friday, as we know it today, has started in the 1960s in the US. The last weekend of November has signified the start of the holiday shopping season, hence retailers wanted to kick off the season with a day of extreme discounts.
The term ‘Black Friday’ is coined from how the stores are moving from ‘red’ to ‘black’, meaning red ink was used for noting loss and black ink was used for profit. Over the years, the practice has spread around the world and has encouraged hyper spending through extreme discounts. Interestingly, a study conducted by Which? revealed how only 1 in 20 discounts are genuine, meaning the prices has been the same or even lower in other periods of the year.
Clear signs of such hyper spending during Black Friday have been website crashes, long lines and unfortunately, in extreme cases violence and death among consumers.
The moral dilemma of such extreme consumer behavior is whether the items purchased are in fact needed and finally more people has financial access to them, or they are simply buying them because of the extreme price reductions? This dilemma has been the focus of one of the main criticisms of Black Friday in the retail industry.
Overconsumption, especially in the fashion industry, is a prevailing issue.
The culture of cheap fast fashion has been a driver of the issue, which also fuels the devastating effects the industry has on the climate. As consumers have access to cheaper clothes all year around, they tend to change their wardrobes faster and dispose their clothes easier. Moreover, the fashion industry is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emission as well as overusing resources such as water. Adding in the factor of unnecessary overconsumption of clothes that is fueled by marketers and retailers the effect is devastating for the planet.
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, when most of the Black Friday sales have moved online new challenges arise. Online purchases further fuel CO2 emissions as all the extra garments needs to be delivered worldwide.
Moreover, retailers have opted for cutting their prices earlier and making them last the whole month of November rather than to focus on sorely one day. This is argued to be since the demand would overwhelm the manufactures, as the warehouses have to follow social distancing guidelines. As this may seem a reasonable decision to take in order to protect the workers, the reality tends to show a different picture.
Recently, the Vice has reported the conditions of factory workers owned by brands such as H&M in Sri Lanka. When the factory workers started showing symptoms of COVID-19, they were sent to the factory’s sick room to be treated with over-the-counter drugs and then were told to go back to work. The factory soon became a hotspot for COVID-19 cases, putting the workers and the local community’s safety at risk.
The case of Sri Lanka, leads to another moral dilemma: is it the producers or the consumers
who are to blame for the current state of Black Friday?
Other approaches include civil organizations calling to boycott unnecessary consumption in forms of online activism or organizing protests. Some brands have themselves chosen to either not lower their prices or close their stores on Black Friday.
However, the question remains, do those brands who participate in Black Friday reduce their waste and sell their stock off at a cheap price, or do they produce more in hopes for a high profit? Unfortunately, the reality tends to be the latter.
Hence, in order for the status quo to change both consumers and producers have to make an even effort.
Fortunately, many argue that the tides are starting to change. And we hope so too! Consumers are more-then-ever aware of their own consumptions and the implications it carries. Social movements, such as slow fashion and buying second hand are all changing consumer behavior. Especially younger consumers are demanding more and more sustainable choices and reject the current consumer culture.
Now it’s time for the industry to follow.
By Orsolya Albert