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Thanks to COVID, We’re Witnessing the Downfall of Black Friday

The one good thing to happen in 2020

Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

Since the 1950s, the unofficial holiday known as Black Friday has been luring crowds of shoppers to their favorite stores in search of big savings. It is a day that also kicks off the Golden Quarter for retailers across the country — the time of year where they can expect to make their biggest profits.

Aside from being loved by customers for its discounts and upheld by retailers for its profits, Black Friday is also affiliated with retail hysteria as a result of the onslaught of shoppers flooding malls and big-box stores. Everyone has a memorable Black Friday story; even if you yourself have never camped outside a Best Buy at four in the morning, you probably know someone that has. Combined with a multitude of viral videos where people are seen stampeding over one other at department stores across the US, Black Friday reminds us just how serious shoppers can be about their savings.

Previously, the mention of Black Friday alone would elicit feelings of chaos and memories of long lines and rowdy shoppers for most. In recent years, however, the concept of Black Friday has been challenged by the following three consumer behavior trends:

  1. Retailers are extending holiday sales to longer timeframes
  2. Online shopping grows while brick and mortar sales decline
  3. Environmental and anti-consumer movements are gaining traction

These trends have seen a steady increase in popularity, but this year they are being intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined, these factors signal that we may be witnessing the downfall of Black Friday as we know it.

So last season

Consumer spending reports from the last few years reveal that the hype surrounding Black Friday has been on the decline. Looking at figures from last year, a PwC survey revealed that just 36 percent of US consumers planned to shop during Black Friday in 2019, which was down one percent from 2018 and a further 23 percent from 2015.

However, consumer spending during the holiday period is still on the rise as a whole, largely due to the growth in popularity of online shopping and an increase in spend per consumer. Figures from the National Retail Federation reveal that total spend during the 2019 holiday season was $729.1 billion, up by four percent from 2018 and 13 percent from 2015.

In addition to this, many retailers have started extending discounts from the traditional one-day Black Friday to multi-day shopping events to maximize profits.

Anti-consumption is the new black

Other retailers — and shoppers — are rejecting the idea of Black Friday all together. Historically, the day has been promoted as one of the biggest shopping days of the year, but its promise of great deals and savings has also been criticized for encouraging consumers to shop impulsively for things they may otherwise not need.

Not only that, but the day also has a big impact on the environment. With the fashion and tech industries being one of the leading producers of pollution across the world, it doesn’t help that days like Black Friday only serve to prop up further environmental destruction.

Therefore, it is unsurprising to see a growing environmental and anti-consumption movement during the holiday shopping period, aimed at making people question the purpose that Black Friday serves. This new trend towards a more mindful Black Friday hints that conscious consumption is on the rise, with people and retail brands alike starting to distance themselves from the day.

The companies rejecting Black Friday

Many retailers have stopped offering Black Friday deals all-together and instead use the day to educate consumers, raise awareness around overconsumption, and donate profits towards environmental causes.

This list of brands championing an anti-Black Friday initiative grows bigger each year, but here are some of the more prominent household names making headlines:

  • In recent years, the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has been encouraging consumers to spend the day outdoors instead of shopping on Black Friday. They previously also donated 100% of their Black Friday sales, a total of $10 million, to grassroots environmental groups.
  • Furniture retailer Ikea has launched a #BuyBackFriday campaign for 2020, asking consumers to sell their used furniture back to the company to be given a new home.
  • For its second year, skincare brand Deciem (parent company of The Ordinary) is challenging hyper-consumerism by closing its stores and website on Black Friday and encouraging customers to shop slowly and mindfully.
  • The Make Friday Green Again collective, made up of predominantly French brands, is encouraging shoppers to look in their closets for what items they can repair, sell or recycle.

COVID versus the economy

With the pandemic continuing its takeover of 2020, we’ve all endured the constant stream of bad news this year. But there may be hope yet: as a result of global economies still being on pause and the public being encouraged to stay at home, the strong grip of consumption that typically takes hold of us during the holiday season appears to be loosening up.

In fact, this pandemic has done a lot to make people consider what matters most to them. With this, customers and brands alike are beginning to embrace the idea of conscious consumerism on a bigger scale than ever before.

In Conclusion

Although Black Friday has had a steady decline in popularity since the mid-2010s, this year it is being directly challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s not to say consumers will stop spending their cash over the holiday season, but it may very well mean the end of the annual shopping hysteria that needlessly surrounds this day.

A decade from now, we can only hope to look back at the Black Friday craze and thank the pandemic for bringing an end to this unofficial holiday. Until then, let’s enjoy the hundreds of Black Friday emails we’ll be receiving from retailers this weekend. Happy shopping!

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Daniela Singlel

Daniela Singlel

Confused millennial. Unwilling participant in the attention economy. Equal parts classy & sassy. Sometimes I write about the new media & pop culture.