Black Friday And Boxing Day Bargains: At What Cost?

Rose Hitchens

Summer sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day – every year the consumer calendar provides us with a slew of sales that promise us amazing, unmissable, better-than-ever bargains – but at what cost? Rose Hitchens looks into whether it is possible to partake in these sales ethically. 

For years, Black Friday has been seen as the pinnacle of discounts and sales aplenty. In the UK alone, the average shopper spends around £275 on this unofficial shopping holiday.

But, recent concerns over the ethical and material impact of overconsumption and the fast fashion industry have lead to a re-examination of the busiest shopping day of the year. It begs the question: is it possible to enjoy the sales in an ethical way? 

Every year, shops online and in-person boast ridiculous discounts on the Friday following the US holiday of Thanksgiving. Sales are advertised weeks in advance, boasting discounts which slash original sale prices anywhere from five to seventy-five percent. 

But why do retailers slash their prices by such large discounts mid-way through November? Historically, the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US was noted for the upsurge of workers calling in sick to their jobs as a way of having a four-day weekend.

During this time, member of the public saw this four-day break as a chance to start their Christmas shopping early, descending upon the stores in their masses and quickly making the day after Thanksgiving one of the busiest annual shopping days in the US calendar. 

Commonly seen as the start of the holiday shopping season, retailers saw this as an opportunity to make a profit and thus the concept of ‘Black Friday’ was introduced and popularised from around the late 1980s to the early-2000s.

In order to keep up with US retailers, the trend of decreasing prices the Friday after Thanksgiving soon spread worldwide to the point where Black Friday is now regarded as a global indication of mass sales. 

Yet, the rising awareness about the ethical side of overconsumption and fast fashion’s impact on retail workers and the environment has made many question whether Black Friday purchases are necessary.

Are we even buying these products because we need them, or are we just buying them for the sake of the discount?

With companies drastically reducing their prices, sometime by up to 75%, one may wonder how companies can make their products so cheaply. More so, are we even buying these products because we need them, or are we just buying them for the sake of the discount? 

It’s easy to be drawn in by sales around the holiday period. Advertisements highlighting these mass-discounts are plastered everywhere you look, sometimes weeks in advance, promoting the bargains you’re told will only come once a year, and that you can’t miss out on.

But behind this façade of marked down prices, the real-life effects that these sales can have on retail workers and the environment can be detrimental. 

“Get up to 80% of RN!” boasts the PrettyLittleThing website in the days leading up to black Friday, which they’ve so colourfully re-named “Pink Friday.” Looking at their website in the sale section, the fast-fashion company’s clothes have been discounted to as little as £1 per item. “GO! GO! GO!” flashes on a banner as you enter their app, making you feel a sense of urgency, as though you have to buy their clothes at this discounted price or else you will miss out until next year.

Similarly, Boohoo, another popular online fast-fashion retailer, boasts up to 70% off their stock in flashy slogans across their site.

The demand for clothes at the cheapest possible price has never been higher, and fast-fashion companies such as  Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing have almost become synonymous with pumping out thousands of new styles of clothing every day at the lowest price possible.

Black Friday campaigns advertising accessible and cheap fashion hide the harsh reality of severely underpaid workers

How can these online retailers mass-discount stock and manage to pay their workers fairly? The answer is simple: they can’t. For online fast fashion retailers such as PrettyLittleThing and Boohoo’s, their vivid Black Friday campaigns advertising accessible and cheap fashion hide the harsh reality of severely underpaid workers.

In 2020, an investigation was brought against fashion giant Boohoo for charges of modern slavery after it was revealed that workers in their Leicester factory were paid £3.50 an hour. In contrast, founder and CEO of Boohoo, Mahmud Kamani, and his family own a stake of almost £1 billion in Boohoo.  

Not only are workers the ones negatively affected, but the environment is too. Events such as Black Friday and Boxing Day which coax you into making quick buys can lead to the purchase of items you don’t really need, which will either sit around and go to waste or end up being thrown away.

In 2018 alone, its estimated that around 350,000 tonnes of clothes were shipped to landfill sites

As a society, we’re buying more than we ever have, with the average consumer purchasing around 60% more clothing than they did 15 years prior. The vast majority of mass-produced man-made items are unrecyclable or unable to be brown down, leading to landfills overflowing with material waste which simply cannot be broken down. In 2018 alone, its estimated that around 350,000 tonnes of clothes were shipped to landfill sites. 

Consumers haven’t been the only ones to notice the harmful wide effects of mass-sale events such as Black Friday. The British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) has noted that a majority of its members are forgoing the traditional Black Friday tradition of implementing widespread discounts to their store.

Citing reason such as the lasting impact of the pandemic, and disagreement with the whole concept of Black Friday, 85% of BIRA independent businesses will be boycotting sales this coming Black Friday. 

Can you still enjoy shopping in sales in an ethical manner?

With retailers and consumers alike distancing themselves from Black Friday in mounting numbers, the question remains – can you still enjoy shopping in sales in an ethical manner?

For many consumers, it’s difficult to ignore the generous discounts offered by companies on  sale days, especially if money is tight around the holiday season. Arguably, there are still many ways to engage with holiday sales while remaining at ethically conscious as possible. 

Firstly, going into the sale season it’s always a good idea to know what you’re looking for. Heading into a shop or going online at a time where discounts are offered on almost every item is an overwhelming experience.

To avoid overconsumption and waste, think ahead of time about what you need

When combined with signs that emphasis how these deals will only be around once a year, not knowing what you’re looking for can create confusion and can lead to over-buying on items you don’t really need or want which can often go to waste. To avoid overconsumption and waste, think ahead of time about what you need before blindly heading into the sales. 

If you want to go a step further, try researching into brands you’re hoping to get a good deal out of to see how ethical their practices are. With brands throwing around terms like “eco” or “sustainable”, it’s difficult to know which brands are sustainable and ethical and which aren’t.

Luckily, websites such as The Good Shopping Guide, The Ethical Consumer, and good on you can help you calculate the ethical rating of brands across a wide range of categories such as clothing, appliances, and so many more. 

On the other hand, there’s always the option to boycott the sale season this year. While all the adverts and banners spread across stores and online will tell you otherwise, events like Black Friday and Boxing day are not the end all of discounted items. 

If anything, discounts will reappear throughout the course of the year over and over again, so not buying anything right now doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to miss out on a bargain.

Saving your money and taking the time to research certain brands instead of impulse buying on a shopping holiday will not only save you a lot of hassle, but could also help our environment too.

Rose Hitchens

Featured image courtesy of Jon Cellier via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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