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As the biggest retail sale event of the year fast approaches, we explore why independents are opting not to participate this weekend, and take a look at the alternatives.
The problem with Black Friday
Last year, it was reported that a third of UK consumers boycotted Black Friday, with 28% of UK shoppers worried about the environmental impacts of shopping and 1 in 5 declining to make any purchases for this reason.
Additionally, 20% of people admitted that the low prices would often lead to them buying things they didn’t need, and with a cost-of-living crisis causing concern, this culture of overconsumption is less than ideal.
As Jon Reed, CEO of Paddy & Scott’s, explained, “We have dipped our toe in the Black Friday waters before, but just found it to be a highly charged frenzy designed to encourage consumers to spend money they don’t have on consuming stuff they probably don’t need or want.
“At a time when countless people around the UK are struggling to pay their heating bills, this period of online supermarket sweep doesn’t connect with our moral compass. Nor does the trend of pushing up prices, only to apply false discounts for the duration of Black Friday weekend.”
But Black Friday is also a difficult time for independents, who simply can’t compete with the sizeable savings offered by bigger businesses.
According to Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA), “From an indie retail perspective, Black Friday is seen as a big business, internet event. This makes it very hard for the smaller retailers to compete as they just do not have the buying power of the large retailers.”
In fact, out of 6,000 independent retailers surveyed by BIRA, 86% revealed they would not be holding the sale, while almost 70% said they had not participated in it in previous years.
Tina McKenzie, policy and advocacy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), added, “Normally, Black Friday is a mixed picture for independent retailers. Some are able to boost sales through promotions as customers start their gift-buying early, but in many cases, smaller operators find it hard to compete with the advertising firepower that the biggest players bring to bear.
“This year in particular, the outlook for small shops is less than cheerful. Our latest research shows small retailers’ business confidence is significantly lower than most other sectors.
“Small businesses are under particular pressure with inflation and energy bills increasing, meaning they often can’t afford to offer large discounts, especially in the run-up to Christmas.”
Alternatives to Black Friday
Instead of raising and slashing prices, something indies simply can’t do if they want to stay in business, many businesses are boycotting the event.
According to Andrew, “With another Black Friday on the horizon, once again many independent retailers will be choosing to ignore this event.
“In general, independent retailers do not see Black Friday as an opportunity. This has been a recurring trend over the years as the large chains and internet retailers dominate the consumer marketing.”
But rather than ignoring the event, Paddy & Scott’s have decided to use it for good and shut down their entire website, spending the day working for charitable causes.
As Jon explained, “We could have just sat it out and carried on trading as normal, but we wanted to make a stand and give our team the chance to invest their efforts in making a real difference.
“Yes, it is risky shutting down the website for four days, but it will give us a chance to shine the light on something more positive and support local enterprises like Rural Coffee Caravan, which helps rurally isolated people in Suffolk access health and well-being services, and Little Lifts, which provides free gift boxes to breast cancer patients receiving treatment,”
“Every team member is going to be offered the opportunity to work in the community, starting on Black Friday, but ongoingly over the weeks that follow.”
But if you can’t shut down your business for the event, Andrew urged independent stores to consider taking part in Colour Friday, which encourages the nation to celebrate the colour and creativity that small businesses bring – and buy artisan Christmas gifts from indies.
“We are supporting creative ideas such as Colour Friday and Green Friday (which has a focus on sustainability) as these are vents that focus on the smaller, local retailers. We are also advocates of Small Business Saturday which also brings the small business into the public mind”, he added.