• Kristin Perissinotto

Black Friday’s shades of grey

Black Friday is one of the many Americanisms we have taken from our friends (and I’ll use that term loosely until 20 January) across the Pacific Ocean. Like Halloween and cool ranch Doritos, Aussies have started getting on board with the post-Thanksgiving sale even though we don’t celebrate turkey day itself.

Aussie brands started getting on board with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales a couple of years ago, and now we’re seeing promo material in our social feeds, shop windows, and even our letterboxes (how old school). Black Friday is an absolute cash cow for businesses (especially big ones), and depending on how you approach it, it could mean you get some absolute deals, or that you spend mindlessly on stuff you’re going to throw away.

Deck the halls with slews of shoppers. Photo by eSellerCafe

Lots of people have a lot of opinions about Black Friday sales, and, because it’s 2020 and we have the internet, they are all pretty polarising and usually biased. Opinion 1 is that they’re great for business, allow for the selling of old/dead stock, and consumers love them. And I have to agree, the stats are hard to argue with. Opinion two is that the sales are a huge polluter, generate literal tonnes of waste, and contribute to the theory that capitalism has gone mad. It’s hard to disagree with that as well. So what am I trying to say?

As with everything, there are shades of grey when it comes to Black Friday. These issues can of course be applied to any sale at any time of the year, however Black Friday is incredibly widespread and is the mother of all sales; a sale on steroids; a super sale. Whatever you want to call it, it's absolutely massive. So let’s break it down.

Sales = affordability

For some people, a sale means they can afford something they want or need and can’t buy at full price. The anti-fast fashion movement, while important, often neglects this very issue, and by result can be rather classist. There are many people in the world who can’t afford to buy ethically, and that’s a problem that has not yet been solved. Sales are important times for people with limited or nonexistent disposable incomes, and sales like Black Friday are often one of the few times a year that people will make purchases for Christmas, back to school, or for bigger ticket items on their ‘to buy’ list.

The waste

Phys.org reports that up to 80 percent of items—and any plastic packaging they are wrapped in—will end up either in landfill, incineration or—at best—low quality recycling, often after a very short life. This suggests a few issues.

  • Plastic or nonrecyclable packaging is a problem. We already knew this.

  • People are purchasing stuff they don’t want nor need.

  • Companies are selling low quality items with a short lifespan.

As consumers, we have control over one of these issues, but more on that in the next point. Plastic bags and packaging are a problem all year around, but it is the extreme amount of shopping that makes Black Friday a huge polluter, not to mention the hordes of items that later get dumped into landfill. As for the lifespan of goods? They just don't make them like they used to! Our world constantly demands more, and faster. Lots of businesses put quality on the backburner to keep up with demands. And again, to point blame is to exclude a huge group of people who simply can't afford top-shelf stuff. There really isn't a solution for this at the moment, but stay tuned because I'm working on it (that's a joke).

Captured 30 seconds before a riot (probably). Photo by CNBC.

But it’s on sale!

How many times have you bought things because it’s on sale? Probably more than you care to admit or even remember. I know I have some repressed memories of buying up big at Supré only to shortly discard the items because they were of shocking quality and/or design. A rule of thumb I hear often is that if you wouldn’t pay full price for it, you shouldn’t buy it on sale. I would probably alter this thought and say that if you don’t think it’s worth the full price, don’t buy it.

The c-word

Not the one you're thinking, it's worse. Capitalism. To get to the bottom of this one, we must simply ask one question: who is benefitting? Huge corporations are the main beneficiary of Black Friday sales. What can we do about this on an individual level? Nothing significant really. This is the world and system we currently live in, and to see a big shift is to change society in a significant way, and unfortunately, we won't get that done before Black Friday 2021. What you can do if you’re making purchases in the sales is consider buying from local or smaller businesses if and where you can!

Where’s the humanity?

So this one is less relevant for Aussies (for now), but the slew of videos of shoppers running rampant through stores, getting into fights, and ripping pieces from the hands of weaker consumers is truly baffling. While on the outset it does provide us a little comedic reprieve, these videos show humanity at its least evolved, and all I really have to say is yikes. It is truly baffling how many people will throw an old woman to the ground in pursuit of a discounted scarf.

So what do we do when the big day comes around each year? Well, whatever you want really. Wake up, have a coffee, get ready for work. Maybe grab some deals online or in your lunch break. I’m not the boss of you! But it may pay to consider your decisions and who is influencing them, because it might be ads and FOMO.