Gunnar Rathbun / Invision for Walmart file

November 27, 2020

Is Black Friday a Thing of the Past?

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Welcome to Black Friday, a holiday that encourages overconsumption and reckless consumerism. Our bellies may be stuffed from a gluttonous thanksgiving meal, but the cravings continue. With discounts and marketing ploys, our individual purchasing power increases and temptation begins to guide our actions instead of rationale. People wait in line for hours and partake in the chaotic in-store frenzy; while we may emerge with exciting new finds, sometimes the deals aren’t all they are made out to be and we end up buying things we don’t truly need.   

Why is this holiday named “Black Friday?” Throughout the year, retailers mostly operate “in the red” because they are gaining minimal profit. As the holiday season kicks in post-Thanksgiving, brands start generating profit, and thus shift to be “in the black.” With online shopping, most people begin the search on Thanksgiving and then place the order Friday, giving rise to “Cyber Monday,” one of the biggest shipping days and continuations of Black Friday discounts. 

In hindsight, the holiday is productive because it allows a greater majority to buy things they need. Most people are not able to purchase items whenever they want, but instead adhere to a monthly budget that is broken down by category. The discounts from the holiday would enable these individuals to make purchases that may otherwise have thrown them over budget. Furthermore, it encourages people to be patient and wait until an item they want becomes cheaper, rather than splurging at first glance. 

However, brands often artificially jack up prices to make it look like you are getting a deal, when in reality you are spending nearly the same amount. For instance, “A Guardian Money test on an electric toothbrush advertised as having 74% off this year found that it had not been sold at full-price for over two years.” The low prices make us feel a sense of urgency to buy now before the discount is gone, but the reality is: The product will always be there, it’s just your desire that may vanish. Even if the good is on sale, would you buy it at full price? If the answer is no, then you are immediately spending more money than you would on a normal day. Moreover, a lot of advertisements make it seem like the product is cheaper, when that discount is only offered if you spend above a certain amount (ex: 30 percent if you spend 110 dollars or more). Therefore, it is crucial to examine both the advertisement itself and whether your money could be better spent elsewhere.

As more people are becoming aware of this reality, the lust of Black Friday is vanishing. The truth is that retailers give more discounts toward Christmas and Hannukah anyway because they need to make sales. Plus, to avoid the struggle of meeting last year’s metrics from Black Friday, especially as more people are starting to avoid the day, retailers start making deals earlier so that they can generate the same or more profits. Thus, consumers can no longer be tricked into thinking that Black Friday is a one day “buy all.” 

Furthermore, people are starting to recognize the privilege that comes from expending so much money on unnecessary goods. I mean, consider this question: Isn’t it a problem that people feel like they can’t afford something normally so a whole day is dedicated to allowing people to afford it? If a brand is selling a product at 20 percent off, they are able to decrease their margins without losing profit, otherwise they wouldn’t lower it that much. This shows that brands are able to attract a wider target market, but they choose to markup their prices so that they stick to a certain customer “image,” like designer brands. Considering all this, while a being may be fortunate enough to splurge on black Friday, the question stands at whether or not it is truly worth it. 

In addition to the social considerations, there has been a larger recognition of environmental impacts that is reflected in the behavior of ethical brands. The conception is that, because cheaper prices equate to less profit, the brand will pay the price. However, the real price is paid by the environment, because overconsumption leads to more investment into fast fashion, plastic, electronics, and food, which ultimately generates waste and pollution. As we know, the less you buy the smaller your environmental footprint. Even if you are purchasing from a sustainable brand, you are still overconsuming and thus contributing to a larger environmental footprint. Some environmental brands have begun taking a stand against black Friday. Patagonia in 2016 chose to donate 100 percent of black Friday proceeds to nonprofit environmental groups, and Rei chose to close their stores and encourage people to spend their day in nature. Their actions will in turn extend to their consumer base, spreading the message that overconsumption is not sustainable. Instead, it would be a better investment to either buy pieces for those in need or to truly only buy things you need or could not afford normally. 

Black Friday is not a day to say “screw it” and indulge in a toxic tradition. Forever 21, Target, Amazon and other known brands will be just fine regardless of your monetary contributions. If you truly value the environment and sustainable consumerism, then take the time to analyze your personal needs and consider how you could redistribute your funds or time. While retailers may be the face of this holiday, consumers are ultimately the ones who influence whether or not it will continue in the same fashion. 

Nina Pofcher is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at nlp47@cornell.edu.