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Are Americans Becoming Disenchanted with Black Friday?

Retailers encourage consumers to avoid the post-Thanksgiving shopping craze and get outside instead

By Cole Mellino

Black Friday is traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year, but this year there seems to be some backlash.

REI made waves last month when it announced that it would be closing all of its 143 retail locations, headquarters and two distribution centers on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. All 12,000 full- and part-time employees will receive paid time off as the company encourages them to #OptOutside instead.

Photo of Hiker in CaliforniaPhoto by Miguel VieiraRetailers are encouraging people to rethink their shopping habits on Black Friday and beyond.

According to REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, the company made the decision to close on Black Friday because it wanted to be “authentic” to its brand. Many companies and organizations have publicly supported REI’s anti-Black Friday movement.

And now the states of California and Minnesota are making it even more affordable to do so. Save the Redwoods League was inspired by REI to sponsor free admission to 49 participating California redwood state parks on Black Friday, billing it as “the best bargain you’re going to find this Black Friday,” according to NBC Bay Area.

Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith told The Minnesota Post that fees for the state’s 76 state parks and recreation areas will be waived on Black Friday.

“Visiting these parks is a great way to spend time with family and loved ones, relieve stress and enjoy exercise in the great outdoors,” Smith said.

But is this what the majority of Americans truly want?

Research says yes. According to a report published by WalletHub earlier this month, more than half of those surveyed believe that shops should not open at all Thanksgiving Day. Bankrate, a personal finance organization, determined that 62 percent of consumers are cutting back on their Black Friday spending, according to Albuquerque Business Journal.

Despite the growing distaste for Black Friday, nearly 100 million people still plan to shop on the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. About 85 to 90 million people turn out every year. Though the number of shoppers has been on a slight decline, as has overall spending, it’s not as if Black Friday will completely disappear any time soon. Americans are projected to drop some $50 million over the Black Friday weekend.

But the discontent for the shopping spree is hard to ignore.

“In recent years, both retailers and consumers have witnessed a backlash against encroaching Black Friday hours,” said JP Griffin Group. “For one, retailers are forced to offer unprofitable deals and pay employees for all those extra hours in order to compete with the box store next door and profits on Black Friday have been disappointing in recent years even as the economy is recovering. Beyond that, it seems most shoppers besides the diehard deal hunters are simply tired of the crowds and frenzied consumerism associated with Black Friday, and are opting to shop online.” 

Yesterday, the hashtag #BlackFridayIn3Words was trending on Twitter, and let’s just say most users were not too thrilled about the so-called shopping holiday. 

One of the original anti-Black Friday companies, Patagonia, ran a full-page ad in The New York Times discouraging consumers from spending money on Black Friday in 2011

Though Patagonia doesn’t close its stores on Black Friday, they suggest customers sit out “Cyber Monday” on their website. And in 2013, it launched its Responsible Economy campaign, declaring that “growth is dead.” And for the past several years, the company has been focusing on its Worn Wear program, which evolved from the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad campaign.

As part of that effort, they run the largest garment repair factory in North America — with upwards of 30,000 repairs per year. They’ve also invested in Yerdle, a web startup that allows you to swap items via its app, and Beyond Surface Technologies, a Swiss start-up that’s developing high-quality, durable textiles based on natural raw materials.

These investments were both part of its $20 Million & Change venture fund that invests in companies making positive impacts on the environment. And they took their Worn Wear program on the road this past spring, driving a biodiesel-fueled, reclaimed wood camper around the country and teaching people how to repair their gear (Patagonia or other brands), so that they wouldn’t have to buy more stuff.

So how has this anti-growth strategy worked for Patagonia’s sales? Pretty darn well. Patagonia expects to gross about $600 million this year, according to the New Yorker. In fact, encouraging people to buy less has ironically spurred sales. Cynics will say Patagonia’s “buy less” is just a very effective marketing campaign. But the company has the environmentally- and socially-conscious cred to back it up. In addition to the aforementioned campaigns, it also “donates one percent of its revenue to environmental causes” and “co-founded the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, in which such companies as Target and Walmart pledged to lighten their environmental footprints,” according to Bloomberg. 

Patagonia isn’t alone in offering environmentally and socially responsible goods this Black Friday. Everlane, an online clothing company, will be giving all of the profits it makes from its Black Friday sales directly to the workers who make the T-shirts in the company’s LA factory. The company used to boycott Black Friday entirely, shutting down the website for the day. But Everlane CEO Michael Preysman said, “people just go somewhere else.” By staying open, but donating the profits, “it’s a way for us to be open and available for our customers while I think reinforcing the values that we stand for,” explained Preysman.

FastCoExist reported:

The company hopes to raise $100,000 through its Black Friday Fund to create a new wellness program for factory workers, offering on-site health care, free food and English classes. For food, instead of offering free lunches like you might find at Google and recognizing that workers tend to bring lunches from home, they’ll offer free groceries instead.

In 2014, the first time they tested the Black Friday program, they raised money for the silk factory that they work with in Hangzhou, China, and bought solar panels for the workers’ on-campus apartments. “Every year, we come up with a different initiative and see how we can push the boundaries,” Preysman said.

Companies like REI, Patagonia and Everlane are at the forefront of this eco-conscious consumerism trend that is encouraging people to rethink their shopping habits on Black Friday and beyond. 

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