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Behavior Change
Growing Anti-Black Friday Movement Spurns Overconsumption, Unsustainable Holiday Shopping

Consumers are more and more inclined to buy from brands that align with their beliefs and values; and anti-Black Friday is an important indicator of the growing chasm between purpose-driven brands and those still banking on business-as-usual approaches.

Black Friday is an unabashed celebration of consumerism, and most companies are still happy to profit from the hysteria. The unofficial holiday is infamous for fomenting hordes of wild-eyed consumers eager to pummel each other over whatever the deeply discounted products are that year — a frenzy that rakes in revenues for participating retailers at a steep cost to society and the environment.

Last year in the UK, Black Friday is estimated to have produced nearly 430,000 metric tonnes of emissions — the equivalent of 435 return flights from London to New York. And a 2019 Green Alliance report found that 80 percent of everything bought during the Black Friday bonanza ends up getting tossed shortly after purchase.

But consumers are becoming more aware that brands are largely responsible for perpetuating social and environmental woes, and 86 percent of consumers believe that businesses must do their part in solving environmental and social challenges. 2020 research from GlobeScan suggested a growing consumer propensity to buy less stuff — or at least thinking more carefully before making purchases, including a growing preference for choosing products that last longer — and a corresponding desire to support brands that help them adopt more sustainable lifestyles and purchasing behaviors.

Every year, more brands choose to forgo the historically most lucrative day in the fiscal year, instead encouraging their customers to be more thoughtful with their purchasing behaviors — or even not shop with them at all. This is anti-Black Friday.

Anti-Black Friday: The origins

The revolution against Black Friday officially began in 2011. Preceding that year’s onslaught, Patagonia bought a full-page ad in the New York Times, featuring a photo of a fleece with the words “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

REI was next to step over the line — the co-op launched #OptOutside in 2015 to encourage its workers, their families, and customers to spend Black Friday outdoors instead of fighting the masses at the mall (or REI stores). On that first fateful day in November 2015, the outdoor recreation outfitter closed its doors and paid its employees to take the day off. #OptOutside spawned a movement of brands unshackling themselves from no-bars-hold profiteering from customers’ hemorrhaging wallets, but it did something more, too: By shrugging off rat-race economics, companies such as REI and Patagonia set themselves apart from other rank-and-file retailers vying for the attention of customers.

Customers are more and more inclined to buy from brands that align with their beliefs and values; and anti-Black Friday is an important indicator of the growing chasm between purpose-driven brands and those still banking on business-as-usual approaches.

The changing nature of holiday shopping

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic virtually shut down in-store shopping; but the number of shoppers — virtual and otherwise — still amounted to a respectable 186.4 million people over the Thanksgiving weekend. Most of the shopping last year was done online.

The changes of 2020 are here to stay for 2021, and likely beyond. As Jill Standish, a senior managing director at Accenture, stated in a recent report: “The declining popularity of Black Friday, coupled with consumers starting their holiday shopping early, means that retailers and brands need to engage consumers throughout the season.”

The dominance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be diminishing, but people plan to spend more on holiday shopping in 2021 than they did last year. Overall consumption is by no means decreasing, just redistributing. Brands, following Accenture’s advice, are “engaging” their customers throughout the season with prolonged sales over weeks and months rather than single-day or weekend sales.

For other brands, engaging customers means bucking the Black Friday tradition altogether and finding new ways to engage customers through purposeful buying, donating and circularity. Here’s how some brands are resisting the pièce de résistance of Western consumerism:

  • For the third year in a row, upcycled bag brand Freitag is closing its online store on Black Friday and encouraging people to barter and trade instead of buying new. Through its S.W.A.P. (Shopping Without Any Payment) initiative, bag owners can trade their durable Freitag products on the company’s bag exchange platform, encouraging trade and barter over consumption on the biggest buying day of the year.

  • Folding bike pioneer Brompton is offering a free bike hire in the UK to encourage riding and exercise over driving and spending.

  • Flamingos life, known for its vegan sneakers, is also closing its online store on Black Friday. The company even has a Black Friday Manifesto, which states:“There are plenty of good reasons for not being part of Black Friday. With all its over-the-top discount hysteria, it's a day that helps very few and harms a lot more — be it in social, ecological, or economic terms. We've no desire to support this kind of frenzied consumerism, either as producers or personally as consumers.”

  • Dutch wallet and card-protector maker Secrid is offering a free repair service for customers.

  • Sustainable surf and yoga clothing pros Oy are also closing their online store and calling for donations instead.

  • REI continues its seven-year-running tradition of closing its stores and blocking online purchases on Black Friday, instead paying its 13,000 employees to #OptOutside. This year, the company is also highlighting the grantees of its Cooperative Action Fund, who are working to build a more equitable and inclusive outdoor culture and increase access to outdoor recreation for all.

  • For the fifth year in a row, Swedish fashion brand Asket will honor Black Friday by shutting down its website and brick-and-mortar store, encouraging its customers to educate themselves about the fashion industry in lieu of buying anything new.

  • Online sustainable marketplace Made Trade is boosting its usual 1% for the Planet commitment to 10 percent on Black Friday. What’s more, customers have the option to take 10 percent off purchases Nov. 26-29 or donate those 10 percent savings to Made Trade’s Black Friday Fund, which helps fund planting of fruit and nut orchards in food-insecure urban communities.

  • Stainless steel drinkware company MiiR will donate 100 percent of Black Friday’s online and retail sales to charity: water to help effectively address the water crisis and bring clean, safe water to families around the globe.

  • Home goods giant IKEA has launched Green Friday to encourage thoughtful consumption. Nov. 19-26, IKEA offers sustainable product discounts. IKEA Family members can now trade their used IKEA products for store credit; and customers can buy used IKEA products through the company’s Circular Hubs.