Black Friday. For bargain hunters it is a much looked-forward-to event, while its critics often see the day as the epitome of the negative effects of consumerism (back when people were getting into physical fights over a new television set, it is quite easy to see where such a take comes from).

Love it or hate it, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday which we are “celebrating” today, are just as much part of the festive calendar as pantos, fairy lights, and Christmas itself. Yet, while I love Christmas and am very much looking forward to next month, I have to admit I find myself siding with the haters and to be a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to these big sales events.

I am maybe triggered through another of my peeves. It is very much a first world problem, but I hate marketing emails and what they do to my inbox. That hate is continuous, but I find Black Friday really does push these boundaries even more. My inbox has been bombarded with emails from retailers I know and don’t know, countdowns asking for my urgency to act, and reminders I did not ask for shouting at me to “not miss out.”

The sheer abundance made me quite happily sit and shout “Bah! Humbug” and delete the lot in one fell swoop.

Maybe I am just bitter. Truth is, if you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have very much loved every single bargain-promising email from retailers I like (who 80% of those marketing messages come from, as I obviously shared my address with them at some point).

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But, over time, I have had to admit to myself that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to my spending habits. I own a fridge magnet, gifted to me by my mother, that states “whoever said money can't buy happiness just didn’t know how to shop” and, boy, did I live by that ethos (which was probably what inspired the gift in the first place. My mum once had to physically drag me out of a mall in America after I refused to return to the car, despite her 11 missed calls).

Based on what shopping does to my brain, I want to say that retail therapy, as some love to call it, is very much real. Looking at things, online or in stores, thinking about my new life with them, adding them to my basket, and ultimately buying them, gives my insides an always short-lived rush of dopamine and bliss. Like cars lose their value the second you drive away from the lot, the second I purchase something, it often starts to lose its shine for me.

Despite knowing this, I often catch myself seeking out that warm fuzzy feeling when I need it. I scroll through websites when I am sad, or sit shopping on my phone when I am bored. It doesn’t always feel like a conscious choice, but almost automatic.

That is not to say that I shouldn’t be doing something about it. It’s something that I am still struggling with: making impulsive purchases. Every once in a while I suddenly have an influx of parcels (often from Vinted, the one place I have allowed myself to keep lurking, as it is all second hand) and I can see my partner rolling his eyes at me. And I am doing something about it or, at least, I am trying to.

I have been making a conscious effort to stop buying things I don’t need just for the sake of buying, using the savvy strategies so often shared by money experts. I deleted certain apps off my phone, sit and wait a few days before buying anything, make pros and cons lists, and, when it comes to discounts, ask myself “would I buy this item if it was full price?”

So, I think I have come to detest Black Friday as a defence mechanism and part of my wider efforts. Yes, the event can be great for some but, for a serial impulse buyer and overspender like me, it is hell.

However, as I have challenged my own views on the event, I have also come to think about the whole thing a lot more and come to realise that, really, there is a lot wrong with Black Friday.

For one, it gives retailers yet another way to deceive us into buying more, under the guise of offers “that you cannot miss.” The urgency (because, remember, Black Friday is only here once a year) potentially pushing people to forgo thinking as to whether it is all as it seems.

Last week, research released by Which? found that only 2% of products in the 2022 Black Friday sales were cheaper than at other times of the year, which, vice versa, means that 98% were the same price or less outside of Black Friday.

The Herald:

Some retailers have rebuffed the research saying that they never promise consumers that Black Friday deals are cheaper than others. Personally, I find this argument quite annoying, given the hype and aforementioned drill to act urgently on this “special” day.

Anyway, it seems the whole thing may be a bit of a farce (who would have thought that this event created by consumerist strategists would be?) Worse even, however, are the effects our embracing of this marketing ploy has on our environment and many, many people.

I find it sickening that one clothing retailer has become known for its “99% off sale” on the day, with garments starting from as little as 8p. What gives any business the means to offer such a thing? The likely answer to me seems: mass production, inexpensive materials, and cheap labour (a Sunday Times investigation three years ago involved this particular company in controversy surrounding staff wages in the UK being as little as £3.50 an hour, something which its billionaire bosses have always denied. I was unable to find numbers for garment workers overseas but I worry they may well be far below what we call making a living).

What is even more sickening is how fast items sell out. Despite increased awareness of the effects fast fashion has on our planet - according to the Clean Clothes campaign more than 100 billion items of clothing are produced globally each year, many of which, according to some other estimates, will end up in landfill - such worries are quickly forgotten under the guise of a good bargain.

It does seem like people are waking up to some of it. According to Reuters, industry experts anticipate a growing number of British consumers will be hunting for refurbished and pre-owned bargains to save cash and shop more sustainably.

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In the end, Black Friday, in rare instances, can be good for shoppers looking for a bargain. But our obsession, and blind faith in it and its benefactors, needs to stop.

Ultimately, whether you are a full embracer, or Black Friday Scrooge like me, we should all play a role in challenging the throwaway culture that very much underpins the big sales event to make more ethical and sustainable decisions.