This year marks the 10th edition of Black Friday in the UK. Amazon brought the previously American phenomenon across the pond in 2010 and other retailers quickly jumped on board, hoping it would extend the Christmas shopping period.
Soon the likes of Asda, Very, John Lewis and Argos were getting in the action, lured by the promise of more sales.
But the bubble soon burst. Pictures in the press of customers punching each other to get to cut-price TVs convinced Asda the discount day wasn’t worth it. As did the lack of a sales boost. People came in for cheap laptops and left with little else, eroding profit margins of struggling retailers still further.
Yet Black Friday persists and it is not just one day anymore. Amazon is running Black Friday deals for a week, as is John Lewis (which is forced to price match its competitors due to its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ promise).
There has, however, been a shift. Black Friday is more of a digital phenomenon than a high street one now. Footfall on the high street is expected to be down 4.5% this year, as people opt to get their deals online.
There are also more blanket deals. In tech, there might be specific offers on certain products, but in fashion the likes of Ted Baker, Kate Spade and Hobbs are going for across-the-board discounts of up to 50%.
And then there are the brands trying to counter the consumerism of Black Friday. At first, this was the obvious brands, those already thinking about the environment as a core tenet of their brand – think Patagonia and outdoor clothing company REI.
But now more brands are jumping on the trend. Giffgaff is trying to tackle our constant need for new technology by opening a pop-up in London that promotes its refurbished phones.
The mobile network has also partnered with sustainable marketplace Zero Waste Goods, which has curated 100 items that will be displayed in the pop-up, such as shoes made from pineapple leaves, vintage bikes and jewellery designed using recycled materials. People visiting will be asked to make a pledge to use more recycled items.
Sustainable shoe company Allbirds is emptying its London flagship store of all products, turning it into a “space for inspiration and innovation”. The company wants this to be a statement against “discount-driven impulse buying and single-use purchases”.
Other brands are looking to use consumerism for good. The North Face will donate £1 from every purchase made over Black Friday weekend to its Explore Fund, which supports charities including The Outward Bound Trust, an organisation that helps young people realise their potential through education and adventure.
For most retailers, either ignoring Black Friday or standing against it will bring far more benefits – both for sales and brand perceptions.
Just Eat, meanwhile, will donate 50p from every order to charity rather than offering customers a discount. The money will go to FoodCycle, which serves meals made from surplus foods to low-income families, people affected by homelessness and those with physical and mental health problems.
Just Eat UK managing director Andrew Kenny says: “Just Eat and FoodCycle are firm believers in the power of food in bringing people together, especially at a time of year which can be difficult for those who are lonely or hungry.
“It’s a great feeling to know that the simple act of ordering the food you love – be it a Greggs vegan sausage roll, ramen, burrito or KFC – will go towards helping those in need. We are proud to be able to do our bit to help.”
There’s no doubt pushing back against consumerism and impulse buying is a good place for brands to be right now. Companies increasingly want to show they have a purpose beyond profit and so taking a stand against Black Friday makes sense.
There are also increasingly negative connotations around whether the discounts available even offer good value. Which? found that only one in 20 deals are genuine, leaving consumers forced to work out which are the real deals.
Black Friday is also damaging to retailers struggling for sales and profit. Flash sale events add to the erratic nature of retail at a time when retailers can ill afford it and cut into profit margins at what should be one of the most profitable times of year.
For some categories this is a time to clear old stock and so Black Friday can have value. For the rest, either ignoring it or standing against it will bring far more benefits – both for sales and brand perceptions.