Not so long ago, Black Friday was a day to be anticipated and celebrated. After Americans stuffed themselves on Thanksgiving, they went in search of stuff to buy the day after. People camped overnight outside stores to take advantage of the doorbuster specials. Shoppers in Walmart came to blows over deals (literally).
Such was its popularity that Black Friday became a kind of retail Black Plague that spread across the world. Retailers from Brazil to Botswana jumped on the bandwagon, even “without the Thanksgiving holiday hook”.
Now, instead of consumers racing to open their wallets, some stores (in the US at least) are even closing their doors. Outdoor retailer REI announced that from this year, the co-operative will shut for good on Black Friday and encourage its employees and members to spend time outside rather than shopping. Even online orders won’t be processed until the following day.
Interest in Black Friday, and revenue numbers, are flatlining or trending down. Online sales on Black Friday dipped last year for the first time ever. Cyber Monday has clearly overtaken Black Friday over the “Cyber Five” weekend – Thanksgiving Thursday through the Monday.
What’s happening? Partly, it’s the explosion of shopping days throughout the year – not just Cyber Monday, but Prime Day, Small Business Saturday, Afterpay Day (and the list goes on), plus the “Christmas creep” that sees the selling season start earlier than ever. Walmart and Target both kicked off their holiday deals in early October; to some extent an effort to clear excess inventory.
Then there’s the “Black Friday bloat” that has seen the event expand to weeks rather than a day. So, the 24-hour period itself just isn’t as unique anymore and the sense of urgency has disappeared. Forget the FOMO when products are pretty much permanently on sale.
Another reason is the pandemic effect, with more people shopping online and fewer genuine discounts on offer due to supply chain disruption.
And this year, “it’s the economy, stupid”. Tighter budgets may result in subdued sales. In the US, reports are that 32% of shoppers will spend less on Black Friday/Cyber Monday than last year, and 49% believe holiday shopping is less important than the past.
But for all that, there’s something bigger at play. Mass and mega retail events that purely focus on “buy, buy, buy” seem to be increasingly out of step with the mood of the times. Gen Z shoppers in particular are trying to bridge the gap between conscience and commerce.
At the fringe, there are pure anti-consumerism protests, like “Buy Nothing Day”, which coincides with Black Friday in the US. But for most shoppers, that’s a step too far.
What is gaining momentum though, is “conscious consumerism”; being mindful about materialism. (Giving back is becoming more important also – witness “Giving Tuesday”.) You could call it “kinder capitalism”.
Last year, a fledgling event called “Green Friday” hit the retail calendar in Australia, timed to coincide with Black Friday through Cyber Monday. The strength of the response from brands and shoppers floored Green Friday co-founder, Peter Krideras. “It was phenomenal. Our post-event research showed that consumers want deals, absolutely – but not at the expense of the planet or people producing the goods. So, Green Friday can be part of the solution.”
This year, Green Friday shifts to its own timeslot, a week before Black Friday, and the number of brands signed up have quadrupled – all of whom are required to complete a 7-point sustainability framework, that will be made public on their profiles during the event. They range from organic skincare brands, to Goodwill-style stores offering “non-fast” fashion, to online appliance retailers who promise energy-efficient products and a responsible removal and recycling process.
Green Friday has also partnered with a carbon-neutral logistics provider and a compostable packaging supplier.
“We are not about telling consumers not to shop, just how to shop better,” Krideras told me. “Let’s flip the narrative on this chaotic sales period and shop with consideration and mindfulness.”
In terms of global shopping days, Green Friday is a minnow amongst an ocean of whales, but it’s swimming in the right direction. And even the Moby Dick of sale events, Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival (the world’s biggest), based in China, is changing course. As Alibaba did last year, the e-commerce and retailing behemoth has signalled its intent to “green 11.11”, with an emphasis on low-carbon products with labelling to indicate environmental impact, sustainable shopping bags, and a huge packaging recycling effort with 100,000 drop-off points.
The message is clear. Sustainability is just as critical as sales. Perhaps, more than ever, Green is the new Black.
- Jon Bird is Executive Director at VMLY&R and an advisor to VMLY&R Commerce
Originally published in Forbes