Black Friday sparks criticism, protests and record-breaking sales

By: Dhipa Palani
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Pope Francis has defined consumerism as “a virus.” Speaking during a service held in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City on Sunday, December 1, he warned people about the dangers of overindulging, saying “it makes us believe that life depends only on what we have.” 

Resist the blinding lights of consumerism, which will shine everywhere this month,” said Pope Francis, placing focus on the purchasing behavior of the masses following Thanksgiving Day and leading up to the gift-giving of the holiday season this month. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas Day – which are all celebrated from the end of November towards the end of December – have sparked a global spending frenzy, with retail giants offering massive discounts and promotions. 

Black Friday in numbers

This sermon comes amid a time when overconsumption and accumulation are soaring in the United States, with Black Friday sales reaching $7.4 billion – compared to last year’s $6.22 billion. Tech and gaming toys are the most sought-after items on Black Friday. 

As listed on Adobe Digital Insights 2019, the top-selling products sold on Black Friday are:  

1.) L.O.L. Surprise Doll 
2.) Frozen 2 Toys 
3.) FIFA 20 
4.) Madden 20 
5.) Nintendo Switch 

The name “Black Friday” originated in the 1940s when consumers were encouraged to shop the day after Thanksgiving. However, in modern days, the term signifies profitable margins for companies, putting them “in the black” for the year – as opposed to in the red.  


Protests over environmental concerns 

The record-breaking numbers have also caused concern regarding the environmental impact around the world as a result of the back-to-back shopping days. Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday originated in the United States, observance of these popular shopping days have spread to other countries in recent years – igniting environmental debates on fossil fuel, plastic use as well cluttering of unnecessary objects.   

Amazon – one of the mega-retailers on the environmental watchlist for Black Friday and Cyber Monday – is facing criticism regarding its role in contributing to environmental waste. With thousands of discounts on its main page, Amazon’s Gold Page promotions and an early start to Black Friday on November 22, the company is facing criticism over its handling of the environmental repercussions of mass production and delivery. 

In France, protestors formed a human chain to block Amazon delivery trucks outside the Amazon depot at its French headquarters in Clichy, Paris on November 29.  

In response to Amazon employee walkouts and protests against the company’s environmental records, chief executive Jeff Bezos vowed to make the company carbon neutral and meet the Paris climate agreement by 2040, ten years earlier than specified.  

Around 1,500 employees of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington had planned a walkout protest to prompt climate change action by the company. Amazon has pledged to help steer clear of using fossil fuels in order to keep the planet within the 1.5ºC (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature threshold according to the Paris Agreement.  

Influence on e-commerce

The holiday shopping spree has brought on huge disparities between retail giants and their smaller competitors. This is because consumers tend to take up the deals available in large retail stores as opposed to smaller, organic stores that cannot afford to hand out big discounts. 

Moreover, retail giants have a significantly larger market share in e-mail marketing, as they have 19% higher shares in e-mail traffic. This means that retail giants have easier access to a more diverse mailing list and can reach more consumers when compared to their smaller counterparts. 

According to data from Adobe Holiday Shopping Trends 2019, retail giants have increased their November–December revenue by 65%, while smaller retailers with less than $50 million in annual online sales have experienced only a 35% boost.

Cyber Monday predicted to set a new sales record 

Cyber Monday is set to break U.S. commerce sales records, with $9.4 billion in sales, as consumers have been less likely to travel to brick-and-mortar shops. 

Increasingly more consumers in the United States who shop online have been using their smartphones like never before, with 50% of all online retail purchases transacted via smartphones. The amount of money spent per minute of browsing online has increased by 63% since January 2016 – from just 30 to 47 cents per minute. 

Cyber Week is said to account for 20% of total holiday season revenue, with television sets being the most sold item at 19%. Online holiday spending is projected to surpass $140 billion, representing 14.1% growth year-on-year.