WANG: A case for spending less this Black Friday

I am all in for treating ourselves this holiday season, but let’s be conscious consumers.

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Emery Little

This year, Americans are expected to drop $148.5 billion over the Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday, up $285 million compared to last year. (Hustler Communications/Emery Little)

Debbie Wang, Staff Writer

As a broke college student and avid window shopper, Black Friday is one of my favorite holidays. After saving up for an entire year, I treat myself to items from my overflowing online shopping cart. I also give in to some hilariously “stupid” Black Friday sales. Just last year, I impulsively bought an ugly Christmas sweater, a nutmeg candle that smelled like bathroom cleaner and an overpriced bottle of glitter eyeshadow.

Since 2010, holiday season spending has set new records year after year. This year, Americans are expected to drop $148.5 billion over the Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday, up $285 million compared to last year, with the average shopper spending $665.

Like many across America, I am worried about the financial stresses brought by COVID-19. Now, browsing through my shopping cart once again (this year even fuller due to quarantine boredom), I began to wonder: should I still participate in the holiday shopping frenzy this year?

Here are a few reasons why I will be spending less this Black Friday.

 

Black Friday Deals are NOT the Best Deals

“Our most powerful deals of the year,” boasted one Black Friday ad. Historically low discounts, long lines for doorbusters and unbelievable online deals gone in a flash—these are things one associates with Black Friday.

In reality, however, many Black Friday discounts are heavily exaggerated by retailers. According to a study by the Wall Street Journal, Black Friday prices are almost always compared to the original retail price, creating an illusion of astronomical discounts. Yet, most merchandise is sold well below its original retail price outside of Black Friday.

In addition, retailers inflate product prices in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. A 2018 analysis of Black Friday discounts found some retailers increasing prices by 20 to 30 percent and then slashing prices during Black Friday weekend. Shoppers, therefore, get almost no real discounts.

Retailers also qualify their Black Friday sales using fine print (those ant-like letters that one can read only with magnifying glasses), making some sales impossible to claim. After you have created a membership account, subscribed to a mailing list and followed the store on social media, most discounts have already run out. Plus, who wants to spend $250 in one store for free shipping?

I am not saying that Black Friday is a scam. Many companies, such as those that sell electronics and appliances, do push out good discounts, according to a recent study. But this year, I will be on the lookout for true Black Friday bargains instead of being fooled by marketing gimmicks.

 

Black Friday Creates Too Much Waste

For many of us, the ring of a doorbell accompanied by a UPS delivery is all too familiar in the weeks following Black Friday. With the eCommerce boom of the late 2000s, online revenue from Black Friday weekend has increased by more than 20 percent every year. For the 2020 holiday season, UPS has hired over 100,000 seasonal workers to handle the expected flood of online shopping.

With the various social distancing measures brick-and-mortar stores have put in place, online shopping seems like the more convenient option for many. In fact, a new projection by Adobe Analytics puts this year’s online Black Friday sales at $10 billion, a 39 percent increase from last year.

While a Black Friday spent in bed is far comfier than one spent combating through crowded shopping malls, it is important to address the environmental waste generated by online shopping. A 2017 study by the University of California’s Climate Lab found that two-day shipping, like that offered to Amazon Prime members, requires more diesel-fueled trucks and thus leaves a large carbon footprint. In addition, ten percent of all recyclable shipping boxes and almost all non-recyclable shipping materials such as bubble wrap and Styrofoam end up in landfills.

Worse, impulsively purchased Black Friday goods can continue to hurt the environment once they arrive at one’s doorstep. For example, only 20 percent of the most popular Black Friday buys —electronics—are recycled. When e-wastes are disposed of in landfills, they release disease-causing toxins.

Instead of shopping at large online retailers, I will be supporting hard-hit small businesses that offer recyclable packaging or local pickup this Black Friday. 

 

If One Must Shop, Shop Small 

Across the country, small businesses are struggling to survive. According to a recent report, almost 100,000 small businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic’s onset. With the new wave of COVID-19 restrictions, more small businesses will no doubt shutter in the coming months.

Despite the recent surge in popularity of small business Saturdays, small businesses have little to no online presence when competing with eCommerce giants. In 2018, Amazon alone took a quarter of all online sales from the Black Friday weekend. Last year, small business Saturday generated only 20 percent of the revenue that large retailers made on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

Small businesses, however, are the backbone of our economy. They make up 99.9 percent of all U.S. businesses and employ almost half of all Americans. For a speedy economic recovery, we must try to shop small this Black Friday weekend. 

I am all in for treating ourselves this holiday season—we all need some pampering after 2020. But let’s be conscious consumers—don’t buy the TV that’s on sale when you already have two TVs at home. Instead of getting it all this Black Friday, we must think before we buy.