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Can you buy ethically during Black Friday?

  • by Jacqueline Smith
  • 4 min read

Can you buy ethically during Black Friday?

Black Friday is coming up and it’s one that tends to polarise. People tend to go all in for it or are dead set against it.

I’m going to sit somewhere in the middle…

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sales and pricing offers in principle. They are a fundamental part of commerce and a way for brands to stimulate demand - everyone loves a deal!  A perfectly ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly brand can have a sale. However there are pricing offer practices which aren’t sustainable and which a lot of Black Friday offers fall foul of.

Consumer Culture vs Ethical Consumption

My ethos on buying is “buy less, buy better” and as an ethical consumer you can still follow this during Black Friday. In fact, getting a product on sale is a great way to “buy better” when you might not be able to afford it otherwise.

However, sales such as Black Friday and New Years sales are big contributor to wasteful consumerism, a huge part of these sales rely on people buying things they don't really need, making impulse purchases. The psychology of Black Friday relies on the fear of missing out and encourages rushed decisions. None this lends itself to conscious consumerism, and making considered decisions on where to spend your money. Instead it encourages the purchase of things you don't need, and increases the risk of those things ending up in landfill sooner.

    Over Production vs Sustainable Supply Chains

    "Made to order" is a growing trend outside of Haute Coutre, which is entirely out of reach for most of us. There are some amazing accessible "made to order" brands popping, Paynter Jacket being a great example. However, most brands buy upfront and then sell holding stock. With this model you're inevitably going to be juggling stock levels and managing supply and demand. Reduced pricing for older stock is a common way to manage this, and as I said earlier, it's a great way for people to be able to afford something they might not be able to otherwise.

    However, the extreme of this is the high street and fast fashion brands hugely over producing and relying on big sales to shift unwanted stock. This is wholey unsustainable, unethical and wasteful, and causes perpetual issues in their supply chains. Having to flog stock at rock bottom bottom prices puts strain on their unit margins which is then passed through the supply chain. It devalues the product they're selling and all the hard work that went into the product creation, and means that the consumer isn't paying the price needed to produce the product lines ethically and sustainably. With this business model, corners are cut on quality and sustainability, and someone along the line is being hugely underpaid for the work they've done. Simply put, brands need to be managing their supply chains better to match their demand.

    Paying a fair price

    As a consumer you should expect to pay a fair price for what you buy, a price that represents the materials and work that has gone into the product at every stage. If you are regularly getting "great deals" from a brand you should be questioning their business model and how they are able to charge these prices and pay their supply chain fairly.

    A product line, or business model as a whole, needs to have pricing that enables each stage of the production process to be paid a fair wage, if a price looks too good to be true, it will be.

    And another one for you to ponder - if you love a brand and they have great ethical credentials but you are constantly waiting to see if a product goes on sale, ask yourself if you can afford it full price. If you always wait for the sale then you may be undervaluing the true cost of the product. If you can, pay full price and support the growth of the brand to do bigger and better things.

    Although sales are often seen as the easy way out for brands, Harvard Review has as fantastic (and timeless) article on pricing psychology, Why People Buy Things They Don't Need. It explains how getting the right price to value relationship with the customer is the most important thing for creating long term customer loyalty. Create products that people want and charge a price that's fair.

    Being a conscious consumer

    Sales in principle are fine, as long it is part of a sustainable business model that is paying the full supply chain fairly. As a conscious consumer, you can still shop ethically and sustainably during the sales, and you can "buy less, buy better". Just remember:

    Don’t buy something you don’t need, just because of the price.

    Don’t lower your standards just because its Black Friday.

    Do your research on the brand and do your research on the sustainability of the product lifecycle.


    Happy shopping !


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