Boycotts and Bargains: Black Friday 2021 sales break records

December 11, 2021


2 min read

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What's going on here?

Black Friday sees unprecedented sales records despite the effects of the pandemic.

What does this mean?

Holding its origins in the US, Black Friday marks the Friday following Thanksgiving. Traditionally the event marks the start of the Christmas shopping season in the US but increasingly, the UK and other European countries have been adopting the practice. Black Friday is associated with extreme consumerism, due to retailers offering catch-all deals. It is a major day for sales and is commonly dubbed the busiest shopping day of the year.

Despite the effects of the pandemic, Black Friday sales were exponential this year, comparatively beating sales over the last two years. Barclaycard, which is one of the leading debit and credit card issuers in the UK, reports that payments via their cards increased by 23% when compared to the same Black Friday period in 2020. There was also a 2.4% increase in the number of payments in the same period around Black Friday in 2019.

What's the big picture effect?

Despite the success of online shopping and warnings of a reduction in the quality of the experience, consumers were determined to go out and take advantage of the Black Friday sales. Retailers warned there would be fewer appealing bargains and some shortages due to supply problems. Yet, consumers were keen.

This can be attributed to the restraints on spending during the pandemic. As a result, consumers had a great deal of disposable expenditure, waiting to be pumped back into the consumerism-driven economy, which resulted in record breaking sales. A combination of early Christmas shopping, pandemic-prompted retail therapy and sheer thankfulness to be back out, boosted shopping this year, amounting to almost £9.2bn spent by the Black Friday weekend, which is 15% more than in 2020.

Yet, the false Black Friday deals also had a big part to play. An investigation done by the consumer associationWhich?’ found that there were very few deals that were truly genuine.Which?’ reported in 2020, 184 out of 201 items had no actual change in their price or were cheaper before the ‘Black Friday deal’. This highlighted the practices of six retailers, which included Amazon and John Lewis.

However, not everyone bought into the hype that is Black Friday. On the heels of the COP26 summit, activists from global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion showed outrage for the event and its negative environmental impacts by protesting. Amazon was particularly targeted due their “exploitative and environmentally destructive business practices”, an XR spokesperson said. The protests resulted in 31 protesters being arrested after blocking UK Amazon warehouses.

All in all, by giving consumers reasons for indulgent spending, Black Friday sales were instrumental in giving the economy a well-needed boost. Yet, the question must be asked whether sales based on extreme consumerism be reconciled to climate friendly practices. To what extent, then, can the impacts of consumption and the importance of consumption be balanced?

Report written by Kerianne Pinney

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