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Boycotting Black Friday – are these the end times for consumerism?

Some say the term was coined to designate the heavy traffic that occurred the day after Thanksgiving in Philadelphia.  Still, others say that Black Friday was coined to show the point at which retailers entered in the black, or in profit.  What is sure is that Black Friday is the Friday which follows Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and which since 2000, has marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

Whilst not an official holiday, some states in the United States observe the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday, thus extending the Thanksgiving holiday period into a 4-day weekend, much to the joy of retailers who have used every strategy in the book to hook consumers. They open as early as 4 a.m., although some retailers, such as Macy’s, opened at midnight in 2011. Still other retailers, like Walmart, took matters a bit further the following year by opening on Thanksgiving Day.

Retailers around the world, not wanting to stay out of the fervour, have decided to cash in. The electronic store Curry’s in the United Kingdom got in on the act in 2003, and by last year, every major retailer in the country had embraced the Black Friday phenomenon.

Other countries, like France, Panama, India and Latin American countries, are copying the trend. If for countries like the United Kingdom and France, the justification for the export of the Black Friday phenomenon is a strategy to get consumers to spend again. After the recession of 2008, in Brazil, it is more of a “cultural phenomenon.” According to Sarah Quinlan, head of market insights for MasterCard advisers, said, “Brazil in general, and especially the middle class and wealthy Brazilians love to copy American culture.”

Now, however, the tide is turning. This year, boycott groups such as Boycott Black Thursday has asked consumers to “boycott any retailer that chooses to extend massive Black Friday sales into Thanksgiving Day. Protect the employees, protect the family.”

Whether this protest gathered momentum because of the boycotting actions of last year, it cannot be said with certitude.

Indeed last year, before the spate of violence against Black people in the United States, the Black community decided to launch a series of boycott of the biggest shopping day in America.

Rahiel Tesfamariam, initiator of the hashtag #NotOneDime explained her actions by saying that “The power structure isn’t listening to us in the streets or in the courts, so we are going to have to do it with our buying power.”  Other hashtag initiators like the #BlackoutBlackFriday of the Blackout For Human Rights group justified their actions by the fact that “America speaks the language of money, and that’s something everybody understands.”

They cannot say for sure whether their protests had the desired result, but according to the National Retail Federation, sales fell by 11 percent even though retailers chose to minimize the effect of the boycott.

It is perhaps to anticipate the effect of this year’s boycott that some stores, such as REI, have simply decided to close their stores and their website and not operate on Black Friday.

“We are closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there. We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles.”  Jerry Stritzke, the president and CEO of REI said in a press release.

Of course, taking such a statement and others like it as the end of unbridled consumerism would be being too optimistic. With the purchasing power of inhabitants of emerging economies such as India or Brazil growing every year, those retailers will simply target them.  Not only do they now have more money than the average American, but they are also enamored with the American way of life.  Ripe pickings then for the god of consumerism.

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