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Black Friday boycotts and whether brands should join them

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Black Friday boycotts and whether brands should join them


On the eve of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday retail sales event, brands are gearing up for a lucrative weekend ahead.

Some have already activated their discounts, as Black Friday creeps more and more into the preceding days to fight for consumer spending, which is forecasted to reach a record $6.2 billion in Australia this year.

But some brands are not participating at all, citing the frenzied consumerism this event generates, its negative environmental impact, or the fact that they simply can’t afford to reduce their profit margins any further.

While some retailers quietly bow out of Black Friday, others have seized the opportunity to integrate this boycott into their marketing.

REI tells consumers to #OptOutside

Since 2015, American retail and outdoor recreation services company Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) has been closing its doors on Black Friday, “choosing time outside over the busiest in-store shopping day of the year”.

REI encourages consumers to get away from the noise of Black Friday and #OptOutside – but also share some snaps of this on Instagram.

“Opt for time spent outside with family and friends this holiday season and share your favorite [sic] moments with @REI on Instagram,” REI’s website reads.

Citizen Wolf hijacks ‘Black Fridye’

The Australian B-Corp certified clothing brand Citizen Wolf will “never participate in Black Friday”. Instead, it started an adversarial initiative: ‘Black Fridye’.

Black Fridye encourages buyers to send their clothes to Citizen Wolf, which will overdye them in black and return them anew. The aim is to extend the life of existing garments in circulation, rather than manufacture new ones.

The Green Friday redirect

Starting in 2021, Green Friday Australia is an annual four-day event that brings together sustainability-focused offers to help people shop with “consideration and mindfulness”. 

It falls just before Black Friday, from 18-21 November in 2022, and brings together Australian businesses that satisfy Green Friday’s sustainable criteria. 

So there are still sales on Green Friday (and some from brands that also participate in Black Friday) but the creators have created a one-stop shop for brands they deem ethical.

Should brands boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday can feel like a pressure cooker for all parties. To spend or not to spend? When to spend and where to spend? Start your sale early or protest this potentially fraught tradition imported from America?

Talia Datt, founder of the social media and e-commerce marketing agency The Social CliQ, says there are benefits for brands that reject this major calendar event.

“Ultimately, Black Friday and Cyber Monday feed this consumerism of purchasing based on impulse rather than necessity,” she says. 

“It’s essentially encouraging over-consumption for brands and consumers. I also think one of the biggest issues with it at the moment is that local businesses and companies are struggling to keep up with these bigger brands. 

“So if those are factors that resonate with the brand, then yes boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday is super important.” 

REI’s choice to close its stores on Black Friday seems “super extreme” to Datt, but it could be a business savvy choice as well as an ethical one.

“If you’re not going to present a discount like every other store on that day, there’s no point in paying your staff and keeping your doors open because people who are shopping on that particular day are looking for a discount.”

Meanwhile, Green Friday is a great movement, but it ultimately “fuels the same sort of discounting and consumerism that we started with”.

“There are so many brands that believe in sustainability, capsule wardrobes and not over-consuming, but still give a discount during this period in order to not allow their competitors to basically leverage their customers.”

The very existence of Green Friday is an acknowledgement that even eco-conscious or ‘ethical’ brands run the risk of missing out big if they don’t partake in this weekend’s promotions.

“If your competitors are running a discount during that time, your customers are going to go to your competitors. They can get what they think is an equal product at a lower price at a perfect time,” says Datt. 

“So I think that is a really big risk that brands need to consider here. But, in saying that, if your consumers align highly with your values, then this shouldn’t be an issue.”


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