Tomorrow, as you have likely heard by now is “Black Friday”.
But what are we celebrating on Black Friday?
For me there are some questions (and sadness topped with anger) raised by Black Friday that I am keen to address to all of our friends and customers at Made to Last.
What is Black Friday?
Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in America.
Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday and prior to the weekend people have the day off work on the Friday too. Typically they have done the family thing on Thanksgiving and now have some free time on their hands – they often choose to go shopping.
The term “Black Friday” was apparently coined to explain the terrible traffic and packed shops experienced on that Friday after Thanksgiving. It historically had negative connotations for all Americans but has now somehow been twisted into a celebration around being the biggest shopping day of the year when retailers tills ring the loudest and consumers can grab a bargain.
So, here in the UK, whilst our backs were turned, retailers have decided to import a celebration of American consumerism on the day after Thanksgiving. Most people have no idea what Black Friday is other than a day when there are loads of sales going on, It literally means nothing to us Brits so why all the fuss?
I think that there are a few issues that spin off of this trend towards consumerism.
1) Retailers are addicted to sales
I used to work in the marketing department for a large British heritage brand selling home furnishings and fashion. With the history of the brand in place I was surprised to find that they had dug themselves into a hole where they had 4 big sales every year where prices are up to 70% off.
In order to fund this they needed to inflate prices at all other times durning the year. Their customers all knew this and few people bought outside of sale periods.
All they could seemingly do to increase sales was to run more promotions and lower prices.
They were not the only ones. John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, House of Fraser etc were, and still are, doing the same thing in a big race to the bottom.
They are all now addicted to these sales periods. Black Friday is just another quick intravenous hit for these junkies.
Read this research from Which that reveals that 87% of Black Friday prices are not the best prices of the year – they are simply another sale!
Yes, another reason for a sale weekend, another few marketing emails that keeps the team busy and heads just above water.
This bad habit has far reaching effects. Selling at lower prices means lower margins for the retailers. In order to make up for lost profits they need to find cost savings (or simply inflate prices to boost profits at other times).
Cost savings can mean that salaries of craftspeople are cut and in many cases that manufacturing leaves the UK for cheaper locations abroad. Skills in the UK are lost and industries lose appeal to employees due to low wages and slowly die off.
Alternatively (read additionally) it can mean that corners are cut – what was once Oak becomes cheaper Pine. The thread count of the beautiful upholstery becomes thinner and thinner and wears out faster (but it still looks as shiny in the showroom as it always has).
We need to remember that there is a cost to a bargain and it may not always be borne directly by us, the consumer, at least in the short run but it usually does come back to bite us in some form or other.
Maybe the closure of a local factory means that other local businesses such as accountants, newsagents and hairdressers lose their customers and go out of business. The local council now has to fund the newly unemployed so cannot justify the new swimming pool, play park or library.
What we want to do at Made to Last is to offer people great value for money and this means consistently fair pricing.
Yes Made to Last is a retailer but by choosing to trade the way that we do, it is our hope that we have a positive, rather than a negative, impact on the communities around us.
2) Commercialisation of traditional holidays
OK so Thanksgiving and the day after (Black Friday) mean nothing to us in the UK but there is a parallel with Boxing day. Last year there were people spending Christmas night on the streets to be first in the door to the New Years sales (which now start on Boxing Day or even before Christmas). Boxing Day used to be a continuation of Christmas and a time for relaxation with family and close friends.
Spending Boxing Day fighting in Primark for a £2 sweater is a depressing symptom of the commercialisation of our family time.
I think that we have a responsibility as consumers to reject retailers attempts to hijack quality family time and replace it with the mindless pursuit of a bargain.
I for one will be nowhere near any shop on Christmas Day or Boxing Day this year and I hope that this post makes others also reconsider how they will be spending these important days.
3) People also have a responsibility
There is desperation amongst retailers and they are clever and aggressive in marketing their products (I am sure I will be fooled by the John Lewis Christmas TV ad…Again…). BUT there is also responsibility on behalf of consumers too.
We (I am speaking as a consumer now) need to think more about what we actually need as well as how we spend our time. Unless there is a real need for something in our lives then why buy it? If you look around yourself right now what can you see that you have only used once or twice?
I would honestly far rather someone refurbish an old light fitting from their loft rather than buy a new one from us. I want people to shop at Made to Last for stuff they actually need, when they need it. If there is no need then do not buy.
We (again I am talking as a consumer) talk ourselves into purchases as quick highs – we feel momentarily satiated due to the cute onesie we just bought for our young niece, that she will wear once and then stuff to the bottom of a drawer.
Is that same high not attainable through spending an hour with the niece playing in the garden?
Perhaps the Christmas holiday should mean quality time spent with the people (not things) that truly make our lives happy.
I hope that if you find yourself shopping on the internet or the high street tomorrow and more importantly on Boxing Day that you question yourself about whether your time could better be spent at home or visiting family and friends.
At Made to Last we are a commercial retailer but I do think that this also comes with a responsibility towards the society in which we operate. I hope that through the way that we choose to do business that we can positively impact peoples lives for the long term.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diariocriticove/8211477590