Are Black Friday sales worth the human cost?

The original term ‘Black Friday’ dates way back to September 24th 1869, when two wealthy stock brokers capitalised on the US gold crash by purchasing large amounts of gold hoping that it’s worth would sky rocket. On that Friday in September, the two damaged the pockets of everyone involved. 

However, this is not the Black Friday you and I know. We refer to the worldwide retail phenomenon that takes place every Friday after Thanksgiving. Companies slash their prices, making hugely desirable and once unattainable goods more affordable. The concept is genius, and since its birth it has made leading technology and retail giants wealthier and wealthier. So, if companies are making a profit and people are getting goods for less, everybody wins, right? Yes and no. It’s simple in theory, yet destructive in practice. And everybody buys into it. 

Photo: Ellie Potts

The initial hope was that Black Friday sales would help small businesses. But big companies latched onto the concept pretty quickly, and so the shopping craze began. In 2013, Walmart’s Asda held a Black Friday sale, resulting in hordes of customers flooding into the superstore as it opened, physically fending off those who stood in their way of discounted TVs and gadgets. This caught the eye of the media, and competing stores upped their games in an effort to outdo each other. The stage was set for a worldwide consumer revolution, as more and more companies adopted this shopping holiday. Mass marketing schemes focused on the advertisement of discounted goods were being churned out left right and centre, and soon the Black Friday sales had turned into a four-day spending weekend. 

Black Friday works, because it caters to a culture of consumers. Things go in and out of fashion at the blink of an eye, and our social media sites bombard us with pictures of the flashiest new iPhone, the latest fashion trend, the most up to date laptop. The things we buy become ‘obsolete’ alarmingly fast, and the lust for more has become integral to our everyday lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. Since Black Friday’s growth beyond the United States, there have been eleven deaths and over one hundred reported injuries caused by mobs of frenzied shoppers, anxious and greedy to get their hands on the latest goods. 

On the bright side, general appeal for the shopping holiday has seen a decline in recent years, at least in the physical sense. More and more people are choosing to rummage the sales from the confines of their own home and getting their deals online, rather than heading out to the shops themselves. Cyber Monday, which was invented back in 2005 in an effort to offer Black Friday deals only available online has surpassed Black Friday shopping, ultimately curing the shopping frenzies. 

This article has unfortunately transformed into a rant about the evils of consumer culture, but the current reality of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is much less sinister than made out to be. It is highly practical for those who want to spoil loved ones at Christmas but have never been able to afford to do so, it gives smaller companies the chance to grow their brands, and companies are able to shift old stock or less desirable items. 

So, whether you live for the latest iPhone or have sworn an oath to be faithful to your thousand-year-old Nokia, Black Friday is here to stay; and it doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. But perhaps the swarms of people willing to trample over each other in the name of a good deal have forgotten about those who walk miles every day just to access clean water. As has been said, Cyber Monday has pretty much taken care of that, but the message remains. This time of year is supposed to be more about spending time with friends and family, and less about spending money on things no one really needs. Now that I’m done waffling about the destructive nature of capitalism, I’m off to shop the sales (because they don’t last all year you know). 

Featured photo: Ellie Potts

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