Black Friday: the end of an era?
Between inflation, the climate crisis and retailers who are increasingly inclined to offer discounts from October onwards, this year Black Friday is experiencing an unprecedented turning point in its history. Despite the context, the event experienced record sales in the United States, but saw lacklustre success in France, according to the first published figures.
“Its opulence and compulsive spending seem anachronistic at a time of moderation and tightening our purse strings.” This is how Challenges magazine described Black Friday last week, two days before its official launch date. According to economic news outlets, this year’s sales event will take place “under unfortunate auspices”, particularly for e-commerce, which “finds itself caught in a vice with French people wanting to reduce their spending, and calls for energy savings”. According to a survey from Harris Interactive, carried out for Fevad and reported on by Challenges, 30% of French people were actually considering not taking part in Black Friday on the eve of the event, “primarily because of the pressure on purchasing power”.
For its part, the consultancy firm Strategy& France was much more optimistic, with a study and the figures to back it up: “Black Friday still remains attractive to the French population, with a budget that is 8% higher than last year”.
Black Friday presents retailers and customers with a dilemma.
Contradictory as they may seem, these two predictions illustrate the uncertainty that both customers and retails find themselves in at the moment. In an unprecedented context, where economic and ecological crises are intertwined, customers are faced with a dilemma: should they take advantage of Black Friday discounts to get a good deal and prepare for the upcoming holidays at a lower cost, or should they shun it because of its environmental impact? An impact that, let’s not forget, is far from insignificant. To take an example from the UK, according to the Green Alliance, “80% of items purchased during this event end up in waste within a year”.
In France, “during Black Friday, the number of parcels delivered each day in the capital city is almost tenfold (reaching 2.5 million deliveries) compared to the average for the rest of the year,” Reporterre recently reported.
However, “out of the millions of parcels sent out in the space of a few days, about a quarter are returned to the sender by consumers under 30” according to Oxfam France. And, if we believe the NGOs, brands are “much more interested today in destroying unsold goods, in order to limit storage costs, rather than repackaging them and selling them at an even lower price”.
A discrepancy between retailers’ CRS policies and the impact of their Black Friday activities.
A growing number of retailers are also facing this dilemma. In recent years, the sector has seen an explosion of climate and biodiversity initiatives from retailers who, on the one hand, claim that they want to achieve carbon neutrality in the short or medium term and who, on the other hand, take part in Black Friday every year and thereby participate in the pollution and waste that it generates. This is the case, for example, for the American giant Walmart, which has set itself the goal of “reducing its operational emissions to zero by 2040” and which, during this year’s Black Friday, dominated Amazon in terms of online searches for promotions. This was the same for in-store, according to BofA analysts, “traffic appeared to be particularly heavy, especially in the electronics, food and toy departments”.
It is therefore likely that Walmart will be able to boast a rather satisfactory sales figure this year, even though, like Amazon and Target, the retailer launched the Black Friday hostilities in mid-October with its “Rollbacks and More” days, contributing to the prolongation of the end-of-year promotional period, as well as to mass consumption, generating greenhouse gases and the waste it causes.
More and more retailers are deciding to boycott the event.
To get out of this contradiction between their CSR policy and the impact of their commercial activity linked to Black Friday, some retailers, such as eBay, have decided for the first time this year to forgo the revenue it brings in by boycotting the event altogether. More and more brands and retailers are joining the anti-Black Friday collective known as Green Friday. In addition, the Make Black Friday green again movement, launched by Faguo in 2019 and whose retailers pledge not to participate in the event “is also growing, with more than 1,300 participants, 100 more than in 2021”, according to the report published today by Madame Benchmark.
An unprecedented context that places Black Friday at a turning point in its history.
With inflation, which can result in a drop in consumption and consumers seeking out low prices and promotions, a growing desire from customers to opt for a more responsible and eco-friendly form of shopping, retailers confronted with the rise in energy prices and the rates charged by their suppliers, a Black Friday that is lasting longer and longer, diluting the traffic and sales it generates, an increasing number of brands and chains that, for ethical and environmental reasons, are beginning to boycott the event…. Black Friday is at the precipice of an unprecedented turning point. And it would have been hard to predict its success or failure in advance.
Record sales in United States, average results in France.
Nearly a week after the big day, the initial results are a mixed bag. On a global scale, the 2022 edition of Black Friday is expected to “surpass 2021 on a global level with 65 billion dollars in revenue”, according to UFC – Que Choisir. In the US, Adobe Analytics reports a record of more than 9 billion dollars spent via e-commerce on 26 November alone, representing a growth of 2.3% compared to 2021. On the other hand, in France “the Webloyalty Panel, which includes 37 of France’s leading e-commerce sites, reports a global volume of online orders down 7% in November compared to 2021” reports Comarketing News.
Have the French decided to protect their purses by limiting their purchases to only what is necessary this year? Have they been more conscious of the anti-Black Friday movement than their American counterparts? Finally, will they make moderation the keyword of their end-of-year celebrations by reducing their spending and/or opting, for example, for products from the circular economy? The next few weeks should provide some answers…