media update’s Taylor Goodman examines the commerce phenomenon that is Black Friday, how consumers react to the day, as well as the negative effects over-consumption can have on consumers' lives. 

Picture this: You decide to venture out for some Black Friday shopping. You end up finding yourself lost in crowds of people unknowingly competing to see who can get the best deal. But where does the tradition of the day come from, anyway?

The history of Black Friday

The tradition of Black Friday came about in the 1950s in Philadelphia, where there would be an influx of tourists, because of the annual army vs navy football game. The crowds would bring major sales as retailers tried to capitalise on the increase of tourists, but it would also result in a bump in shoplifting. For this reason, police in the city would refer to it as ‘Black Friday’ because of how they dreaded working on that day. 

Since then, the tradition surrounding the special day has evolved. Now, the Friday after Thanksgiving is globally known as a day filled with major deals and sales that are available for one day only (well … with the exception of Cyber Monday, but more on that later) This serves as the perfect opportunity for consumers to kick start their holiday shopping.

But why are retailers willing to sell their goods at such a discount on this day anyway? Well, this is because retailers begin to see a profit (or are ‘in the black’) nearing the end of the year, hence the popularisation of the term ‘Black Friday’. 

The history of Cyber Monday

This Black Friday frenzy forged the way for Cyber Monday. As we live in the digital age, Cyber Monday served as an update of Black Friday traditions since these deals are predominantly found online. 

This came about as a way to suit businesses that focused solely on e-commerce and wanted a similar bump in business that brick-and-mortar retailers experienced on Black Friday. 

Now, to address the elephant in the room: the pandemic. Black Friday traditions are rooted in long lines of people queuing to get into stores and crowds enclosed in small shops, but this is no longer possible due to social distancing regulations.

Craig Lubbe, bidorbuy's CEO spoke to Gadget, explaining that “South African consumers are still wary of visiting stores in large numbers, with the foot traffic at malls still not reaching pre-covid levels.” 

Retailers are finding themselves having to adapt to ‘the new normal’ and adhere to social distancing regulations in-store, but it is likely that the majority of Black Friday deals will be found online too. 

What will consumer behaviour look like on Black Friday?

In an article on CNBC, Cory Steig states that “the average American, Black Friday shopper spends $313,29, 69% of which goes towards gifts.” 

Let’s go back to the Black Friday scenario painted earlier. You find yourself in a packed store, and while you’re browsing, you watch two fellow shoppers aggressively quarrelling over who can have the last 70%-off dishwasher. 

Yes, this situation sounds like it is straight out of a cheesy comedy, but it’s not far from the truth. Pre-Covid, Black Friday shoppers would be crammed into close proximity, making the risk of conflict high. This is due to the anxiety and aggression that can emerge in a crowd of people trying to out-shop one another. 

For example, an employee at a Wal-Mart in New York was trampled to death by the massive crowds there for the Black Friday sale in 2008

In situations like this, it is clear how important a good sale is to a shopper — so much so that they willingly partake in the Black Friday chaos.

At this point, you may be wondering why one would partake in Black Friday craziness just for the sake of a discount, but it is actually ingrained in human nature to seek out a good deal.

According to Alain Dagher in an article for Neuron, shopping activates parts of the human brain that gives a sense of pleasure. This pleasure is accelerated by the achievement that a shopper feels after reaching a conclusion in the decision-making process  after deliberating whether a product is worth it or not. Essentially, shopping makes the consumer walk away with new goods and positive emotions.   

With this being said, the rush that comes along after making a purchase isn't always a good thing. If a shopper seeks out the pleasure they get when buying something, leading them to buy things they don't need, this can have negative effects on their mental health and their bank balance. This is also when the negative impact of excessive consumerism comes to play. 

The drawbacks of Black Friday

It is no secret that consumers love to shop and consumerism helps to drive economic growth ... So, what’s the problem?

As this day is created to motivate the public to shop through clever marketing campaigns and jaw-droppingly low prices, many consumers end up buying things they don’t need. 

This excessive consumption can have serious social and environmental repercussions. 

The environmental cost of Black Friday

As stated, shoppers have a tendency to over-consume goods when sales are involved. Whether these consumers are buying electronics, toys or clothes, this generates a lot of waste.

Electronic waste is one of the key examples of our society's carelessness. E-waste comes about when electronic devices like smartphones, televisions and computers are used as long as they’re new and shiny, but are thrown away as soon as a newer model is introduced. If these goods are disposed of incorrectly, this can lead to toxic elements like mercury, lead or BPAs entering the soil

Fast fashion, or clothing that is cheaply priced and produced, also contributes to environmental stress. Around this time of year, many consumers are looking to update their wardrobes and the fashion industry is well aware of this. 

Due to the demand, retailers over-produce clothing, which in the long-run contributes to filling landfills with textile waste. According to The Council for Textile Recycling, the average American disposes of 70 pounds (around 31 kgs) of textiles per year.

The negative social impact of Black Friday is quite layered. On one end, are the brands marketing these major deals to consumers really being ethical, and how does this over-production of goods negatively impact developing countries?

Brands tend to produce in developing countries because the labour costs are cheaper, but this mass production can worsen pollution and, subsequently, impact the surrounding communities. An example of this is the injustice found in the fashion industry, where the workers that manufacture clothes work lengthy hours for minimal wages

From a marketing perspective, all brands have the same end goal; to make money. In the lead up to Black Friday consumers are bombarded by ‘Black Friday deals start now’, ‘Massive savings! and ‘One day only’ marketing campaigns. But, with the knowledge of the negative impacts of overconsumption, one has to wonder if it is really ethical for marketers to push products on consumers. 

The bottom line for Black Friday

As the public veers towards being more socially conscious, excessive consumerism does not resonate like it used to. Rather, shoppers feel guilty when buying goods on a hedonistic whim, as they are more aware of the repercussions of over-spending. 

As fun and exciting as the Black Friday spectacle can be, buyers are adopting an attitude that is ‘anti-consumerist.’ Gone are the days of splurging as consumers gain a greater understanding of their responsibility to shop sustainably. 

Are you planning to participate in Black Friday this year? Why or why not? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about e-commerce and purchasing behaviour? Be sure to check out our article about E-commerce and purchasing behaviour during trying times
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy