Black Friday. Its gloomy name is said to have been coined by police trying to control the stampedes of shoppers and deafening traffic jams on Philadelphia’s city streets as sales started in November, 1965. Fifteen years later, the term had been re-appropriated by retailers to refer to the kinds of sales that put businesses ‘in the black’ (for accountants, black ink = profit, red ink = loss) to shine a more cheerful light on the day.


Today, there’s absolutely no ambiguity about the impact of this single day of shopping on retail sales. A relatively recent import to the UK, it’s now the second most financially fruitful period of the shopping calendar for retail businesses (second only to the weekend before Christmas). In 2016, British Black Friday sales reached a colossal £6.5 billion - the GDP of Kyrgyzstan. Online sales have kept growing year-on-year.


So how is Black Friday different to any other calendar-bound shopping ritual in the year, other than its sheer magnitude?

Well, the hype, advertising, and events in the run up and during the Black Friday period (now being extended to 10 days of sales ) tap into inherently harmful human psychological states of competition and stress . Adverts in preceding weeks stoke frenzied anticipation to bag a deal. Sales, occupying a short window of time, pressure us to buy stuff impulsively. Whether we’ve raced through the door or are browsing the stocks online, our sense of competition propels us to purchase items before someone else does.

We’re not getting a good deal. It means consumer messages have got through our filter, and instead of being mindful about what we value and need in our lives, we have reacted to these messages by wanting and buying when we might not have on any other Friday.


Another consideration about Black Friday is that bargains come with a cost, even if not directly borne by the consumer. For retailers, lower cost margins as a result of slashed prices can end up having an impact on the quality of a product, on its crafter’s welfare and salary, and on the environment. Shoppers’ expectations for lower prices have contributed to jobs going overseas, to UK industries losing their appeal and as a result, skills being lost.


The irony that Black Friday falls the day after many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, a day of reflection and thankfulness, is not lost. We have a right to be free from pressures to buy, buy, buy, and this carnival of excess should be no exception.


So what can we do about it?

This year, Global Action Plan is launching a Christmas campaign called Elfless Acts, which is all about helping people to create more fun – instead of buying more stuff - with their gifts . By focusing on things that are known to make us happy (time with friends, new experiences, exploring the great outdoors etc.) the campaign supports people to create amazing memories and adventures with their friends, families that don’t end up at the back of a cupboard or in a charity shop a week later.

For more tips on how to beat the Black Friday Blues and Christmas Craziness, read here