The Black Friday boycott: Independent brands taking a stand to promote a more thoughtful way of consuming

·Freelance Writer
From plunging profits to a charitable stance, the reasons why brands are turning their backs on Black Friday this year [Photo: Getty/Yahoo Style UK]
From plunging profits to a charitable stance, the reasons why brands are turning their backs on Black Friday this year [Photo: Getty/Yahoo Style UK]

A bombardment of overexcited emails crashed into our inbox this week with brands desperate to secure our attention through luring discounts and one-too-many exclamation marks.

With just one day to go until Black Friday, it’s the last-minute push for retailers to empty our pockets yet this year, it seems increasing numbers of brands are turning their backs on the US-born tradition.

But why are they choosing to sidestep the annual event?

Is Black Friday bad for business?

UK consumers are expected to fork out more than £10 billion this week with sales across the nation higher around the Black Friday period last year than peak December for the first time in history.

But not all brands can benefit from competitive discounting with independent labels in particular risking a quiet spell before squeezing lucrative sales into one day.

Rachael Otterwell of Manchester-based boutique Object, told Yahoo UK: “When I first started out as a bedroom business back in 2014, I took part in Black Friday. I was very quick to learn that whilst I had a flurry of sales over the weekend, it was actually false economy and it just didn’t sit right with me that a product could be discounted and then return to its normal price a few days later.”

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If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year about running my own business it’s understanding that it needs multiple facets. For us, it’s a combination of selling products and selling a service. . I’ve made my point that I don’t feel shops can ever by being ‘just shops’ anymore if you want to survive in the tough, competitive world of retail. Businesses, especially the small guys like us NEED multiple income streams. . For the last 3 years we’ve make the conscious NOT to take part in Black Friday and I’m proud to say we’ll be doing the same this year on our website or in our store. Customers are savvy, they will be fully aware of the Black Friday promotion and exactly when it is happening, so it completely baffles me why retailers would risk a dead few weeks in the run up to Black Friday (and in November) and bank on lucrative sales squashed into one weekend ?! High volume, low profit margin does not necessarily equal long term success and if that isn’t your business model to start with why the hell risk your brand identity, reputation and financial position, especially given the volatile state of the high street. . Not only do I think Black Friday is damaging to the economy for the retailers who choose to take part, the customers who buy things they don’t need and for small indies like us who just can’t compete, I also think it is a lazy and outdated marketing technique that lacks creativity and imagination. . So returning to my original point about running a multiple facet business, isn’t it a better idea to try feel secure in your business all year round by planning ahead ? There are tonnes of key calendar dates to create something special and unique to market and differentiate your business that don’t have to just be about discounting your products. . Remember, “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have.” – Oscar Wilde. . Have a great Tuesday all, we’re back open from 10am today 😊 . We support @justacard campaign. Shop locally and independently this Christmas 🎄❤️

A post shared by OBJECT. MAN | WOMAN | HOME (@object_style) on Nov 20, 2018 at 12:04am PST

She continued, “I don’t think Black Friday encourages customer loyalty and as a small independent business we pride ourselves on building long lasting customer relationships to encourage them to keep shopping with us.”

Instead, Otterwell uses more “creative channels” such as a hire and style service for private events and workshops within the store in a bid to market the business.

“There are just five weeks left of the retail year and late November and December should be a retailers busiest time – we shouldn’t feel the need or pressure to discount items,” Otterwell adds.

The high street further emphasises the financial risks that come hand-in-hand with Black Friday, as the likes of House of Fraser and New Look shut down several stores amid plunging profits last year.

Though it’s not surprising, as the rise of social media has heavily shaped our shopping habits with brands more likely to succeed by participating in Cyber Monday instead.

According to recent figures, those aged between 22 to 37 now make 54% of their purchases online and 20p of every £1 spent this Christmas will reportedly not even involve a shop visit.

For those looking to cash in, it seems brands will have to cater to the Gen Z market.

A charitable stance

This week, London-based clothing and interiors hub House of Hackney announced that the store vows to create a ‘more meaningful shopping experience’ for customers instead of traditional Black Friday deals.

The store is offering 10% off and promises to donate profits to three leading charities: Hackney Winter Night Shelter, Help Refugees and Friends of the Earth.

Frieda Gormley, co-founder of House of Hackney, explained the brand’s decision to boycott the tradition: “This year, we’ve decided to replace Black Friday with Give Back Friday because we believe that it’s a wonderful opportunity to create a more meaningful shopping experience for our customers.

“We wanted to use the day to raise awareness of some of the charities and causes we feel passionately about and, quite literally, give something back,” she told Yahoo UK.

“Our customers will still receive a 10% discount on the day but we’ll also give 10% of proceeds to a selection of worthy causes for a more balanced approach to what can sometimes feel like a frenzied day of mindless shopping!”

In a similar move, fellow interiors label Edit58 is also leaving Black Friday to the “big boys” and instead pledges to donate 15% of all sales to Momentum Children’s Charity – an organisation which helps to support children with cancer and other life-challenging conditions.

For Londoners keen to dig deep in the name of charity this year, Help Refugees is also launching its annual pop-up on Friday with the aim to raise funds for everything from women’s services to school bags for those in need.

Josie Naughton, Help Refugees CEO & co-founder, told Yahoo UK: “With all the hype around Black Friday and Christmas shopping, we wanted to create a place that did something a little differently. Instead of buying discounted things for ourselves, what if we bought something for someone who truly needs it?”

“At the Choose Love Store in Carnaby Street, you can buy everything from emergency blankets and sleeping bags to school supplies and family accommodation. But instead of taking them home, we’ll send a similar item to a refugee or homeless person this winter.”

Last year, the store raised £750,000 helping to provide refugees with 800,000 meals, 25,000 winter essentials and 11,000 items of clothing.

Meanwhile, Chatty Feet is also donating profits to a charity of your choice this year with causes ranging from the British Red Cross to Oxfam. All you need to do is place your order between November 23 to 26.

A pledge to be more sustainable

Similarly, an increasing number of brands are boycotting Black Friday this year to help promote sustainability within the fashion industry.

A quick Instagram scroll shows independent stores such as Brighton-based Wolf and Gypsy Vintage are side-stepping the marketing ploy.

The company told followers: “We’ve never taken part in Black Friday and after much consideration feel we will remain true to ourselves and choose to opt out.

“We hope you shop with us because you love what we do, we believe we have a responsibility to work towards less waste by rethinking the way we shop and also help maintain a healthy high street of shops big and small.”

Fellow independent brands and customers took to the post to praise the brand’s decision to opt out.

One commented: “I have a rule: I never buy things in a sale I wouldn’t pay full price for – the value of things isn’t simply monetary. Thank you for encouraging a more thoughtful way of consuming.”

A second customer wrote, “Independent retailers need to stand up to this dreadful gimmick.”

The real impact of Black Friday stretches further than your wallet

This online conversation is part of a much wider political movement, as a growing number of consumers across the globe will celebrate ‘Buy Nothing Day’ tomorrow instead.

According to the website, the campaign aims to “challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life” with a “24-hour moratorium on consuming, either as a personal experiment or public statement”.

The Canada-born pledge kick-started back in 1992 and now, more than 62 nations across the globe recognise the movement using the hashtag #ShopLessLiveMore.

Unsurprisingly, this last-minute crush to purchase trolley-loads of presents has led to global concern from leading environmental organisations.

Last year, Greenpeace issued a warning against the annual tradition emphasising that this “sense of urgency” promoted to consumers triggers “low cost, high volume impulse buying and – as a result – overconsumption of unnecessary goods”.

In the European Union alone, more than 1.5 to two million tonnes of used clothing is generated annually with items likely to be worn once.

But with 91% of UK stores taking part in Black Friday last year, there’s still a long way to go in the challenge to change consumer mindsets.

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