Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day

Frederik Nielsen
September 15, 2020
For most retailers, Black Friday is the busiest and most profitable day of the year. However, more and more activists are protesting the consumer culture by celebrating ‘Buy Nothing Day.’

For most retailers, Black Friday is the busiest and most profitable day of the year. However, not everyone is into shopping on Black Friday. Every year, more and more activists are protesting the consumer culture by celebrating ‘Buy Nothing Day.’

Never heard about it? Although the anti-consumerism celebration has been gaining traction in the last couple of years, it’s still not well-known among the general public.

How did we come to this point? That’s what we’ll learn today.

You’ll find out:              

  • A short history of Black Friday
  • What’s Buy Nothing Day All About
  • Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day

Let’s get started with…

The History of Black Friday

As high-speed Internet spread across the planet so did Black Friday. What initially started as a mall craze has evolved in an online phenomenon. But do you know how Black Friday started? When and where did it happen and how did it spread?

How Black Friday Started

The holiday got started in the early-50s, in Philadelphia. The term was used to describe the heavy traffic on the day after Thanksgiving when hordes of tourists and suburbanites would storm the city in advance of the annual Army-Navy football game. 

While we don’t know for certain, the term “Black Friday” was possibly coined by the members of the Philadelphia police department to describe the shoplifting, traffic jams, and general mayhem. Yes, Black Friday incidents are nothing new.

Even though retailers tried to change its name to “Big Friday” during the late 60s in an effort to avoid the negative connotations, the original name persevered. In the mid-80s, marketers started using the term in connection to “being in the black” after a financially bad year. 

Cyber Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Black November

Black Friday sales became commonplace across the United States, in the early 90s. By the mid-2000s, online shopping started gaining traction. In 2008, online shoppers spent $534 million on Black Friday

During the same period, Cyber Monday got its start. The holiday took off when the staff at Shop.org noticed a 77% increase in online sales on Monday after the Black Friday weekend. Since Cyber Monday was so successful, some of the largest store chains in the US, like Walmart and Amazon merged the two into a single shopping weekend

Soon after, retailers started creating different spin-offs of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. For example, the day after Black Friday is called Small Business Saturday. That’s why some retailers now celebrate Black November all month long. 

Image Source: Statista

Pros and Cons of Black Friday

Last year, retailers from all over the world saw more than 93 million people shopping online, during the Black Friday weekend. While a huge number of people are looking forward to the holiday, there are some that aren’t as nearly excited. 

The holiday has its positive and negative sides. Some of the Black Friday pros include:

  • Most consumers are able to save a lot of money on great deals
  • Retailers are able to make a good percentage of their yearly revenue during BFCM
  • It’s great for the economy; 30% of retail sales happen between BFCM and Christmas 

Of course, we need to take into consideration Black Friday cons as well:

  • People tend to overspend during BFCM and buy things they wouldn’t otherwise
  • Some retailers that artificially heighten their prices in the weeks leading up to BFCM
  • Some small businesses can’t compete with large discounts offered by large chains  

The History of Nothing Day

Not all people see Black Friday as a great opportunity to buy that 40-inch smart TV for a fraction of its price. Some see it as nothing more than a decadent celebration of commercialism. That’s why some people opt to celebrate Buy Nothing Day.

Never heard of Buy Nothing Day before? You’re not alone. A lot of people haven’t. But don’t worry, we’re here to explain everything… 

How Nothing Day Started

Now, Buy Nothing Day is actually nothing new. The anti-holiday was originally thought out by a Canadian artist by the name of Ted Dave way back in 1992. His anti-shopping campaign started gaining steam once it got picked up by the non-profit magazine, Adbusters.

According to the official Adbusters website, the day is meant for ordinary consumers to re-examine their spending habits and take a look at the “issue of overconsumption.” 

During the 90s and 00s, this anti-holiday was mainly “celebrated” in the US and Canada, but in the last couple of years, thanks to the Internet, it reached a worldwide audience. While it’s certainly not popular as Black Friday, it’s slowly catching on.

How is Buy Nothing Day Celebrated

Seeing how Buy Nothing Day is still new, it’s no wonder that different people celebrate it in different ways. However, over the last decade, certain traditions have developed. Here a few universal ways in which people celebrate Buy Nothing Day:

  • Cutting Up Credit Cards: This is perhaps the most extreme way in which people celebrate Buy Nothing Day. Some consumers gather in front of shopping malls on Black Friday to cut up their credit cards in protest of consumerism. 
  • Starting Whirly Marts: Another “on-location” way to celebrate Buy Nothing Day is to take a shopping cart and create a long -conga-like line around the mall. As you might’ve guessed, the shopping carts are traditionally empty. 
  • Taking Buy Nothing Hikes: A less confrontational way to celebrate it is to ignore the stores and shoppers completely and go for a group hike. This allows people to leave the stress-filled spending day behind them and enjoy nature. 
Image Source: YouTube

Pros and Cons of Buy Nothing Day

People who are preoccupied with the negative aspects of commercialism are obviously more likely to participate in the Buy Nothing Day celebration. But just like its consumerism-celebrating counterpart, Buy Nothing Day has its negative and positive sides.

Let’s go over the positive aspects first:

  • It encourages people to think about how much money they’re needlessly spending
  • Also, it helps consumers control the urge to buy things compulsively and spend wisely  
  • Finally, it shows that your personal happiness doesn’t revolve around material objects

Nothing is perfect and Buy Nothing Day isn’t the exception. Here are some negative aspects:

  • Not overspending for a single day doesn’t mean you won’t do it for the rest of the year
  • Consumerism drives a country’s economy, so it’s not always the most sustainable protest. 
  • Not shopping for a single day won’t prevent consumerism on a large scale 

Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day

As a retailer, are you wondering if you should be worried? Can Buy Nothing Day turn some of your customers against you, destroy your relationship, and hurt your sales? Let’s see how the BFCM weekend will stack up against Buy Nothing Day in 2020. 

The Emergence of the Conscious Shopper

Consumers have become more conscious in recent years. They’re more worried about global problems than ever before, and they would like the companies they’re dealing with to share their concerns. 

But if overspending in rampant consumerism is such a problem, why isn’t Buy Nothing Day bigger? You have to remember that the day is competing with well-established holidays. Also, Black Friday backlash has been much more noticeable outside the US.

For example, just last year in France, protesters gathered in an attempt to block an Amazon warehouse in the suburbs of Paris. In other European countries, lawmakers are considering banning Black Friday altogether, due to the negative environmental impact.

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Make Black Friday Green Again

Speaking of France, a collective known as MFGA (Make Friday Green Again) recently formed in the country, in order to help the citizens become more conscious about their consumption. More than 450 brands signed up to support the MFGA initiative in 2019. 

Faguo, the organization behind the movement is inviting consumers to drop unwanted clothing items into their stores and encouraging consumers to take part in their tree-planting campaign. 

The #OptOutside Campaign 

In the United States, REI, an outdoor-gear manufacturing company is doing its part to slow-down overconsumption during the BFCM weekend. On Black Friday, the REI officials close all of their stores, give their employees a paid day off, and encourage people to go outside for a walk, hike, or a campaign trip. 

Their Opt Outside campaign not only helps their consumers become more physically active and financially responsible, but also spreads awareness about their values. The fact that the healthy activities they promote are what their products are made for is not a coincidence.  

Buy Nothing Day vs Ecommerce

Will Black Friday sales suffer from Buy Nothing Day? Not really. While some will choose to ignore the BFCM weekend, most people are either not aware of Buy Nothing Day or don’t feel like they have any trouble controlling their spending. 

Large stores probably won’t feel any consequences. However, their small-to-midsize counterparts might feel the hit. 

Around 60% of all online spending during BFCM goes to a dozen or so large retailers. None of them will feel the impact of Buy Nothing Day. The rest of the money goes to thousands of small stores. They’re the ones that could potentially feel the hit. 

How to Do Your Part

Should you be concerned about Buy Nothing Day? Yes and no. On one hand, you have to be aware that as a small business owner, you can’t afford to lose any customers. On the other, it’s not likely that many of your customers will choose Black Friday to ignore you. 

There’s a simple solution if you feel like Buy Nothing Day may be a problem. To get the younger, socially-aware crowd on your side, you just have to show them that you care. 

You can use your website to encourage people to spend more time outdoors or promote a good cause. Take DoneGood for example. In 2018, the Boston-based ecommerce website donated Black Friday revenue to the RAINN foundation.   

Looking Beyond Black Friday 2020

It took nearly 50 years for Black Friday to become a worldwide phenomenon. Although information travels fast nowadays, it’s not realistic to expect for Buy Nothing Day to become a large-scale protest against consumerism any time soon. 

When done right, Black Friday can be a great day for both retailers and shoppers. If you’re a store owner and you want to make it great for your customers, here’s what you need to do:

  • Creating catered, personalized experiences
  • Taking a mobile-first approach to ecommerce
  • Becoming more environmentally-conscious 

One thing is certain: your customers should always come first. You need to show them that you share their values, respect their concerns, and that you’re ready to take that extra step to keep them satisfied. And you can’t do that without a good helpdesk. 

With Gorgias helpdesk, you can attend to your customers, establish, and nurture relationships with ease. 

Go ahead, sign up for Gorgias, get your 15-day free trial, and see your customer satisfaction rates skyrocket.

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