Turning Black Friday green: Sustainable activities vs. discounting

Former Ikano Insight CEO, Karen Pflug, reflects on ‘Green Friday’ activities, what they could mean for the future of Black Friday, and the opportunity they present for consumer brands.

4 minute read

December 8, 2020

Last Updated: March 10, 2022

Over recent years, there’s been a steadily growing alternative take to Black Friday amongst certain retailers, one that’s been seemingly fortified by the global pandemic and a collective urge to reassess what’s important.

Black Friday 2020 saw brands large and small ditching the discounts in favour of something altogether more community and/or environmentally-driven. Rather than offering customers the chance to save money on purchases over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday period, several brands have donated proceeds to good causes or encouraged customers to take part in larger charity challenges.

Here, former CEO, Karen Pflug, reflects on some of these ‘Green Friday’ activities, what they could mean for the future of Black Friday, and the opportunity they present for consumer brands.

Many consumers are looking for new ways to ‘give back’

While this is a Black Friday trend that’s been quietly gaining momentum – US clothing company Patagonia donated $10 million of Black Friday sales to charity in 2016 – 2020 has seen more brands than ever champion this approach. No doubt this is in no small part due to the year it’s been; the pandemic has meant that we’ve become more aware of the impact of our actions on others and how much ‘stuff’ we really need. For many consumers, life has become far simpler through necessity, and the mass move to home working has meant much less spent on conventional luxuries like clothing, and more on home improvements, furniture and home-based pastimes.

The Conscious Consumer Spending Index

These brands have tapped into a growing consumer desire to give back, as revealed in the latest Conscious Consumer Spending Index – an annual survey of over 1,000 consumers that measures the enthusiasm for conscious consumerism and charitable donations. In May, the index had leapt up to 46 on a 100-point scale, a 15 percent jump, which is especially notable considering the last index score was only recorded in November 2019.

“We’ve all had time to reassess what’s important to us this year, and that’s translating to new buying behaviours for a growing number of consumers. Many people are seeking ways to have a positive impact on society or the environment, which may or may not have a spending component. When they do decide to spend, many would like to feel that it’s ‘conscious consumerism’, something that benefits others and enables them to feel part of a wider community or movement.”

Karen Pflug

A global shift towards more responsible consumerism

The antithesis to Black Friday – Small Business Saturday – takes place the following day. Since originating in the US in 2010, SBS has taken off in the UK too.

“As the name suggests, it’s about spending your hard-earned money with small businesses that focus on service, craftsmanship and quality rather than simply opting for the lowest price,” Karen explains.

“This small business ethos is something larger brands are looking to emulate with Green Friday events, by offering a more meaningful and connected consumer experience.”

UK clothing company ME+EM was one of several fashion brands to forego Black Friday discounts to make charitable donations for purchases instead, in this case, £10 from every sale to support The Prince’s Trust’s Women Supporting Women initiative. PANGAIA, a global eco-clothing brand, partnered with Tomorrow Tree Fund to help customers offset their carbon footprint, planting, protecting or restoring three trees for every purchase over the Black Friday period, or every follow or tag on social media.

Encouraging customers to ‘swap the shops for drops’

Cycling wear and accessories brand Rapha went a step (or cycle) further with its Rapha Foundation Black Friday Ride. Encouraging customers to ‘swap the shops for drops’, it urged them to join its global cycling challenge to cover one million kilometres on Black Friday, therefore helping the brand to donate 1,000 bikes to World Bicycle Relief.

“I managed to squeeze in a short cycle between meetings and when I checked the challenge progress on Strava, I could see rides taking place all over the world. It was powerful to know I was part of something so positive and widespread, and whilst I didn’t buy from Rapha over the Black Friday weekend, the next time I need cycling gear, they will be the first brand I check out. Creating a sense of belonging and affirmative action can be a really effective marketing approach, arguably capable of fostering consumer loyalty far better than a one-off price reduction.”

Karen Pflug

Playing the consumer loyalty long game

While these brands are all fairly high-end and Green Friday initiatives won’t suit every retailer, we predict that this trend will gain traction across all areas of the retail space over the next few years. Green Friday is designed to win consumer hearts and minds and therefore, repeat custom and strong customer loyalty.

“This is an investment strategy. It’s about retaining and strengthening bonds with existing customers and welcoming new ones into a like-minded community, rather than simply having them make a single purchase and disappear again. It’s more cost-effective to keep customers than to find new ones, and Green Friday schemes aim to maximise customer lifetime value while also affecting positive change for a brand’s chosen causes.”

Karen Pflug

It has to be action that’s genuinely aligned with a brand’s values though; consumers will see through green washing. The key for businesses is to understand how to resonate with their own target markets in ways that inspire and excite, to enrich the consumer experience and keep them coming back for more.

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Posted by Sarah Cumber


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Turning Black Friday green: Sustainable activities vs. discounting