Last Friday, November 26th, independent retailers once again found themselves competing with big online shopping websites, in the biggest sale of the year: the famous Black Friday sale.
Black Friday got its name from the Friday in 1869 when gold prices plummeted, causing a market crash. Some 50 or 60 years later, depending on the stories, a policeman from Philadelphia, US, is said to have called the big day of spending furry following Thanksgiving ‘Black Friday’ because he dreaded that day and the crowds that came with it. Another story about the origins of the name is the black ink that flooded retailers receipts, marking the profits they had made: the adjective ‘black’ comes from when records of sales had to be kept by hand, with profits in black and losses in red.
Or at least that is what Google says.
Black Friday sales were first advertised in 1924 by Macy’s during the Thanksgiving Day Parade as “post-Thanksgiving shopping”. Whether you do or don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, Black Friday has travelled across borders and is well and truly implemented in Europe and the United Kingdom. Those are the stories anyway, not that I’ve asked myself that question before today. I just always knew I was not a massive fan of that day, to say the least. When I asked her what Black Friday represented for her, my flatmate, a 25 years old social worker, said it was a “marketing strategy that encourages over-consumption by offering so-called low prices,” adding the prices are “in reality not that low compared to the average price of the item.”
Despite this, I understand that some people rely on Black Friday sales to make purchases they could not afford otherwise. Sarah, 29, marketing assistant for an AI company, tells me she takes advantage of Black Friday to buy her family Christmas Gifts:
“There are better deals than usual everywhere, so I can buy what I want for less. I always prefer waiting a bit longer, until Black Friday, to buy what I want so I can get the products for a cheaper price.” Sarah usually looks for the products she wants online before Black Friday, to make sure she finds the better deals. While I cannot disagree with her arguments there, my family’s thinking has always been different than what seems to have become ‘the norm’ of the past decades: if it’s broken, fix it. If it’s still wearable, wear it. I have been made aware very early on of the negative environmental impacts of Black Friday, and of the sheer idiocy of buying for the sake of buying, which is what a lot of people seem to do. Black Friday pushes overproduction and overconsumption, in a world that cannot afford them anymore.
The Black Friday’s buying craze would sit slightly better with me if independent retailers were not overpowered by giants such as Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos. Independent retailers have been badly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis and endless lockdowns. While supporting a small, independent, preferentially eco-friendly brand is still better than supporting a big corporation, this year a lot of those retailers have decided to close on the 26th. A strong message, in the lines of the Buy Nothing Day, an initiative launched in Canada in 1992 in an act of protest against Black Friday. Other brands are choosing to donate profits made on that day to charities. My message remains the same as it has always been: buy less, not more. But if you have to buy, take a look at what independent retailers offer, before buying from Internet giants.