The dark side of Black Friday: Counting the real cost of deals and bargains

It’s one of the biggest shopping days of the year, offering us all the chance to buy, buy, buy and only count the cost once the credit card bills come pouring in.

But Black Friday is not all sweetness and light.

Consumers love this annual shopping bonanza because they get the chance to buy all sorts of stuff at knockdown prices.

But Planet Earth pays a heavy cost for our greed and it’s also feared the reductions may harm businesses, rather than help the,

A new report published today found that a massive 80% of items and the plastic packaging they are wrapped in will end up as waste, meaning they will be incinerated and dumped in a landfill.

Academics from Leeds University said ‘most of the resources they are made from will only get one use before being wasted’.

They called for the establishment of a ‘circular economy’ where ‘long-lasting repairable products are the norm and resources are maintained, reused or recycled back into high-quality uses’.

Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: ‘Black Fridays could look very different in the future.

‘They wouldn’t need to be followed by buyers’ remorse shortly after as low-quality products are ditched. The next government needs to kick-start a resource revolution and change the system, starting with the infrastructure that enables a circular economy to thrive.

‘It’s not just good for the environment. People want high quality, long-lasting, repairable goods.”

In France, opposition to Black Friday is now mounting amid fears the orgy of consumerism could hurt the environment.

Dozens of French activists blocked an Amazon warehouse south of Paris in a Black Friday-inspired protest yesterday and a group of French lawmakers pushed to ban it altogether.

Protesters from climate group Amis de la terre (Friends of the Earth) spread hay and old refrigerators and microwaves on the driveway leading to the warehouse in Bretigny-sur-Orge on Thursday.

They held signs in front of the gates reading ‘Amazon: For the climate, for jobs, stop expansion, stop over-production!’

Police later dispersed the protest.

More demonstrations are expected and French climate groups are planning ‘Block Friday’ demonstrations today.

Their objections have gained support within France’s National Assembly.

Some French lawmakers want to ban Black Friday, which has morphed into a global phenomenon.

A French legislative committee passed an amendment on Monday that proposes prohibiting Black Friday since it causes ‘resource waste’ and ‘overconsumption’.

The amendment, which was put forward by France’s former environment minister, Delphine Batho, will be debated next month. France’s e-commerce union has condemned it.

On Europe 1 radio Thursday, France’s ecological transition minister, Elisabeth Borne, criticized Black Friday for creating ‘traffic jams, pollution, and gas emissions’.

She added that she would support Black Friday if it helped small French businesses, but said it mostly benefits large online retailers.

In the UK, the same trend appears to be taking hold.

An estimated 77 per cent of Black Friday gift purchases will be made on the Internet with just 23% in shops, a survey of almost 2,000 Brits by the accountancy firm PWC suggested.

Website spending will treble compared to an average day, but experts say non-food shops will be quiet.

PWC said: ‘Black Friday is now an online phenomenon. In-store crowds and queues from the early years of Black Friday have disappeared.’

The website PriceResearcher said a survey revealed that ‘85% of UK retailers now feel pressured to participate in Black Friday despite knowing it’ll have an adverse impact on annual revenues’.

It also warned that with ‘high street footfall in decline’, 75% of under 35’s will purchase exclusively online, based on a survey of 1000 people.

So will this hurt businesses?

James Brown, the head of the UK Consumer & Retail practice at the consulting firm Simon-Kucher in London, said: “The rapid spread worldwide of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday this decade from America is both a testimony to people around the world loving a bargain, as well as to the power of big US platforms, particularly Amazon, to rapidly transform behaviours around the world… at least where consumers are happy to go along.

‘Shoppers worldwide, not just in Britain and America, certainly love these days and the opportunities for bargains. Whether they are a good thing for high street retailers is another matter, with the heavy discounts eating into profits at a time when they should be making good margins ahead of Christmas.

‘We are no longer looking at a single day in the UK. This became 2-3 days, then a week and now this seems to be stretching to a month of discounts!

‘To sustain this retailers are needing to offer shallower discounts and consumers and media are becoming wise to this. We still expect some high profile events on Friday but the theatre is disappearing, making this less of an event and more business as usual.’

It’s great for consumers, but Planet Earth and High Street businesses could pay a heavy toll for our greed on Black Friday (Image: Rex)

Black Friday is also something of a misnomer, because it’s now become an extravaganza lasting almost a weel

Fred de Gombert, CEO of the tech firm Akeneo, commented: ‘Black Friday has become a quasi-global phenomenon – it has metastasized from a single day into a six-week long festival of consumerism, towards the build-up to Christmas, encompassing Cyber Monday and holiday discounts.

‘Over the years, it has evolved from a consumer favourite to a symbol of hyper-consumption, with retailers, brands and consumers themselves starting to question not only the environmental but also the actual business impact in terms of profitability, stemming out of this “discounted celebration”.’

One of the big problems for companies is the number of returns they will have to process.

De Gombert added: ‘Although offers and returns are thought by some to increase shopper satisfaction, Black Friday has led to an endless loop of consumer expectations around free returns and shipping, without much real benefit actually delivered to them. By the point of returning an item, it may be discontinued, or the original product price could be slashed, meaning that consumers are actually subject to losing their time and money in the process.

‘Such initiatives have led to the emergence of the ‘serial returner’, with Black Friday returns alone having cost UK retailers some 1.6 billion pounds last year, and returns predicted to increase by 27.3% in the next five years, hitting a total of 5.6 million pounds by 2023.’

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