This Black Friday, brands like French cosmetics startup Typology, U.S. outdoor retailer REI, and a growing group of other merchants won’t make a single cent in profit.
That’s because instead of slashing prices and scrambling for customers, the company is launching a campaign called “#BlackForGood”, donating its profits to environmental charities. “This campaign is intended to be a positive and encouraging call to action for those who agree that Black Friday could be better,” according to the movement’s founder, Ning Li.
In recent years, Black Friday has evolved into a worldwide sensation, even as some companies, like Typology, fight back against the rising tide of consumerism. Just a few years ago, Black Friday was a purely American phenomenon.
But now, in storefronts from New York City to Paris, and everywhere in between, companies are looking to make their mark on the holiday season by appealing to discount shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday — or by appealing to shoppers who just can’t take one more Black Friday promotion.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday go global
The Black Friday shopping frenzy has now truly gone global. This year, shoppers everywhere from Latvia to Brazil are flocking to their local malls and fighting over discounted handbags, clothing, and consumer electronics.
Along the way, Black Friday has metastasized from a single day into a week-long festival of consumerism. Stores now start “Grey Thursday” sales on Thanksgiving night, and shoppers can also look forward to spin-off events like Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Fair-trade Tuesday.
Then there are the other special discount events, from Amazon’s Prime Day to Overstock.com’s Overstocktober, and local copycats like Mexico’s Buen Fin and the UAE’s White Friday events. This year, Macy’s, eBay, Target, and Walmart even staged a “Black Friday in July” summer sales event.
These events, and dozens of others like them, prove that there is definite consumer appetite for seasonal promotions, not just around the winter holidays, but at almost any time of the year.
Swimming against the tides
Amid the near-universal sea of sales, how is any one brand supposed to stand out? One alternative Black Friday strategy is simply to refuse to participate.
That’s why we find Typology’s approach so interesting. As everyone else rushes to slash prices, companies that swim against the current, and think a little differently or a little more creatively, have a real chance to grab shoppers’ attention.
Similarly, since 2015, outdoor retailer REI has won endless column-inches with its #OptOutside campaign, with its 12,000 employees receiving a paid day off, and customers being urged to get out and enjoy some fresh air instead of trudging through a crowded mall. Other, slightly less committed companies make a point of closing their doors or limiting their hours on Thanksgiving Day, and brag about giving their employees a chance to spend some time with their families.
That’s what makes REI’s decision to opt-out of Black Friday altogether impressive, eye-catching, and certainly on-brand —but hard for most companies to replicate. (Try telling your shareholders you’ve decided not to open on the busiest day of the year!) That’s why Typology’s #BlackForGood campaign is so smart: instead of simply turning its back on Black Friday consumerism, it’s hoping to harness it for good.
The history behind bucking Black Friday trends
Typology and REI may be relatively unique in the discount-dominated holiday shopping market, but they’re far from the first retailers to buck the trend of discounts and promotions around the end of the year.
American consumers have seen #BlackForGood-style events before. In 2016, for example, Patagonia saw a fivefold uptick in Black Friday sales after pledging to donate 100% of daily takings to environmental causes. More recently, online fashion retailer Everlane has pledged to remove 1lb of plastic from the ocean for every product it sells, while Cuyana is matching every item it sells with a donation to victims of domestic violence.
For companies outside the United States, though, such campaigns are as new as Black Friday itself. That’s why it’s so exciting to see companies like Typology seeking new, socially conscious approaches instead of simply emulating American box stores, slashing prices, and hoping for the best. By bucking even a relatively recent trend, they’re making their mark on the space and standing out from the competition.
The future of Black Friday
It’s clear that shoppers, both in America and around the world, are hungry for creative, socially conscious approaches to Black Friday.
According to one global survey, for example, 81% of consumers want companies to help the environment, and almost half would switch from market-leading brands to support smaller, eco-friendly companies. And while four-fifths of shoppers remain motivated by discounts and special offers, two-thirds say they’ll forgo those savings and pay extra to support sustainable brands.
That makes eco-friendly, socially responsible promotions like Typology’s #BlackForGood campaign a smart branding exercise. Increasingly, products are seen as embodiments of brands, and while consumers always want to get a great deal, they also want to support brands that share their values.
At Akeneo, we’re seeing that trend play out across all the markets we serve, in Europe, the United States, and worldwide. Companies are starting to understand that it’s important to be mindful about how they manage products, and to take a more careful and internationally informed approach to commerce. We’re seeing more and more clients warm to initiatives such as fair-trade sourcing, carbon footprint reduction, and recycling or second-hand purchasing programs. The #BlackForGood campaign is a sign of how effective it can be to commit to such strategies, and take mindful marketing and product management to the next level.
As Black Friday spreads around the world, it’s creating big opportunities for brands that are bold enough to stand apart from the pack, and broadcast their values instead of simply slashing prices. If your company is brave enough to stand apart from the pack, take risks, and find creative, value-driven sales strategies, you too could find that this year’s Black Friday will be a holiday to remember.
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