The #BlockFriday / #BoycottBlackFriday hashtags and rival #indieweek / #indiefriday campaign indicated that forces were rallying in opposition to what many see as the low point of the retail calendar, Black Friday (BF).
Many stores ran promotions for the whole of the week and will continue them through the weekend and into Cyber Monday on December 2.
Environmentalists lamented an event based upon “commercialised consumption and fast fashion”. Activists in France tried to blockade a Paris shopping centre as Amazon workers went on strike in Germany and a protest was made in Madrid claiming that “consumerism equals climate crisis”.
In Russia the consumer watchdog issued a detailed statement warning about dubious or fake promotions and urging shoppers to check what prices were before spending money in advertised sales.
This annual shopping behemoth – imported to the UK from America by Asda in 2014 – originated as post-Thanksgiving holiday tradition centred on iconic department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdales, but has now taken a distinctly downmarket turn. Even worse, with the greater proportion of consumers seeking their bargains online, the high street retailers are hardly benefitting from this hardcore discount and promotional routine which is now being relied upon to kickstarts Christmas shopping.
The pre-Christmas sale looks set to reap a record-breaking total of some £3billion, with around £2.3billion of that being spent online. This made for some sorry scenes early in the day at supermarkets, high streets and shopping centres, where footfall was generally low and queues were limited to specific outlets in key locations. This is in stark contrast to the 2014 stampede to Asda when thousands of shoppers camped outside so they could be first in line for bargains when the shops opened.
Major retailers might now be left wondering what to do about the beast they’ve invited onto Britain’s high streets, despite this being the highest amount ever spent in a single day in the UK.
There were some keen bargain hunters who braved the chilly weather on Friday November 29, with people spotted lugging huge TVs and other electrical items in Tesco superstore carparks around the UK in the early hours of the morning. The biggest categories were electricals (up 67% on last year’s discount event), followed by fashion, entertainment and leisure. Sportswear and fragrances also saw a huge boom during BF week.
As the day went on footfall got stronger, with customers describing the ‘total nightmare’ shopping environment at Westfield Stratford, with one worker describing it as their busiest day. Some 150,000 shoppers were estimated to have passed through the doors of the London site.
Intu, which runs shopping centres including the Arndale and Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex, said total footfall for the morning across all its centres was up 12.7% on last year. meanwhile at Bluewater in Kent, all 13,000 parking spaces were full by 11.00 am.
Around 750,000 shoppers descended on Oxford Street, Regent Street and London’s West End searching for bargains, around 250,000 more than you might expect to see on a normal shopping day in that area.
Many shoppers came from mainland Europe to make the most of discounts and promotions, but there were complaints that discounts weren’t as big as in previous years as the heaviest duty bargains were found online.
This year’s BF has also proved more controversial than ever, with Extinction Rebellion protesters outside Oxford Circus tube station complaining that the event is unsustainable and bad for the planet. One of them commented: “’It’s like a celebration of products, which are typically low-standard anyway”.
Hundreds who attended a Youth Climate Strike march said it should be Green Friday not Black Friday, whilst rail passengers had to brace themselves for journeys that were even busier and more chaotic than usual.
The French government has proposed a ban on Black Friday, after the French minister of transport Élisabeth Borne warned citizens of the pollution caused by all the extra packaging and deliveries of Black Friday deals, saying “We can’t reduce emission gasses and at the same time allow this rage of consumerism”.
There were also protests specifically aimed at Amazon, as over 50 demonstrators blocked the entrance to its distribution centre in France and shouted “No against Amazon and its world”. There were also demonstration at the Amazon distribution in Lyon. In a response Amazon wrote that they appreciate freedom of speech but that the line should be drawn on violent demonstration nearby people’s workplaces.
The astronomical sums spent online in general and at Amazon in particular demonstrate that regardless of such protests and environmental concerns, “consumers are choosing easy over ethical”, says retail commentator, Harry Lang. Constant stories about Amazon’s ever-increasing market dominance, complaints about its working conditions and relatively miniscule tax payments, have done nothing to dissuade consumers that the eCommerce giant offers the utmost in convenience.
Whether the shopping Titan is a bit too easy doesn’t yet seem to have crossed many minds.