Unpacking Black Friday
As we enter into the latest sale season, we cast our mind back to Black Friday and explore the hype surrounding Black Friday and what people in the UK really think about it…
Confession time: who bought something that was on a Black Friday offer?
Yes, I plead guilty.
Despite reading articles insisting that only 1 in 20 of Black Friday Deals are genuine, I fell victim to the sales, and purchased thermal t-shirts and a luxurious duvet set. All of which, in my defence, I needed.
The hype surrounding Black Friday has been growing over the past decade, with people in the UK spending 16.5% more in 2019 than in the previous year. The event crossed the Atlantic from the US where it originated as the day after Thanksgiving, signalling the start of the American Christmas shopping season since the early 1950s.
No longer is Black Friday merely a single day, but has now become elongated to span several days. With Amazon advertising ‘Black Friday Week’ and numerous clothing brands like Uniqlo following a similar trend, it becomes harder not to get drawn into the different deals throughout the week. Deals on clothing, electronics, toys, cars, furniture, and even groceries can be found even with the most rudimentary of looks.
I turned to Twitter to discover what people in the UK really think about topic: Do people really post about their shopping hauls during the event? Or is there something else unfolding?
Black Friday: Number of Mentions (Twitter)
Figure 1: Number of mentions generated for “Black Friday” between 21/11/19 – 01/12/19
Mentions of Black Friday on Twitter first started growing mid-November, picking up some traction on November 21 when the first sales started, and unsurprisingly peaked on November 29, before trailing off in the following few days to almost nothing again. Amongst these mentions, emerging is a backlash against Black Friday.
Black Friday Sentiment
Figure 2: A pie chart showing the sentiment breakdown of a sample of Black Friday mentions from Twitter (21/11/19 – 01/12/19)
In a sample of tweets mentioning Black Friday posted between November 21 and December 02, almost three quarters of all tweets, unsurprisingly, were advertisements promoting the event’s sales.
Only 6% of tweets analysed saw users becoming ‘broke’, having spent money on shopping, whilst another 4% mused about having to work on the day itself – having to deal with impatient customers, working unruly hours as shops opened earlier and earlier, and in some case having to bear witness to fist-fights breaking out.
Curiously, there was a lack of tweets filled excitement for the event in the analysed sample. It was a surprise not to see people taking to Twitter to celebrate their hauls, suggesting there may have been a shift in the way people perceived the day. However, individuals may have instead taken to sharing this content on social media platforms other than Twitter. Instead, the remaining 16% of tweets expressed explicit backlash towards the occasion, portraying a looming bitterness towards the event. But what does the data suggest is the reason for this backlash?
Black Friday Backlash Sentiment
Figure 3: A pie chart showing the sentiment breakdown of a sample of Black Friday backlash mentions from Twitter (21/11/19 – 1/12/19)
Human analysis of a sample of mentions surrounding Black Friday backlash on Twitter has given further insight into what has motivated this growing movement.
Given the prominence of climate change in the past year, it is unsurprising that it is a significant driving factor in the movement against Black Friday, with over a quarter of tweets identifying this as the main reason not to participate in the sales. Within this section, tweets mentioned issues of fast fashion and sustainability, and the lasting impact this has on the climate. There is evidence of environmental consideration, with people being concerned about the effects of increased deliveries and resources used to produce not only the products sold and purchased, but also post and packaging.
24% of tweets discussed the concept of Black Friday being a scam, with the main focus on the idea that sales were not “genuine”. This argument has also been put forward by Which?, whose investigation found that 74% of products discounted on Black Friday were available at the same price or cheaper within the following six months. Twitter users highlighted how several companies falsely inflated prices to create ‘discounts’ that were more than the product had cost in the days, or weeks, leading up to Black Friday. This newfound knowledge is likely to make people reconsider potential purchases on Black Friday in the future.
Over a fifth of Twitter users disliked the ideology behind Black Friday, rejecting the consumerism that surrounds the occasion, in addition to the capitalist structures that enables it. One user said there is an “embarrassing level” of capitalism that in “infecting” society, suggesting that shopping habits need to be changed. Other tweets called for more conscious consumerism, instead of purchasing with the frenzied manner that supposedly encompasses Black Friday nowadays.
Internationally, some companies have taken matters around this consumerism into their own hands, either deciding not to engage with Black Friday, or deciding to use the day to bring awareness to another cause. In the US, Raeburn closed their doors and websites, while others such as Patagonia and Everlane used the occasion to raise money in aid of tackling climate change.
Meanwhile, closer to home, French MPs took a stand against Black Friday, calling for it to be banned in France, due to the “resource waste” and “overconsumption” of it. The ecological transition minister also shared her criticism of Black Friday, aptly saying that you “cannot both have a consumer frenzy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The conversation continues in France, where MPs will a debate on the proposal to ban Black Friday in December – if successful it could have a ripple effect with other nations following suit.
If 2020 again features themes of climate change and environmental impact that were heavily prominent in 2019, conversation on social media may change, and shift even more towards sustainable approaches to consumerism. This could have a potential knock-on effect on Black Friday, and other key sale times.
For the moment in the UK, however, the conversation seems to have faded to black.
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