why should we boycott Black Friday?

A few years ago, most of us had probably never even heard of Black Friday. Today, it’s almost unavoidable. Ads for the best-ever Black Friday deals are sliding into our inboxes all day long, popping up at the side of webpages we browse and blasting out of our TVs.

What was once just one big day in the retail calendar has spilled into surrounding days, making it harder and harder to avoid the temptation to buy items that we don’t even need. So, it’ll probably come as no shock that everything about the fast-paced, frenzied, thoughtless sales of Black Friday doesn’t sit quite right with a slow lifestyle.

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What is Black Friday?

Day of the year

Black Friday is the fourth Friday of November (the day after Thanksgiving in the US), where various retailers heavily discount stock to draw customers in and kick off the Christmas shopping season.

A drawing of a black credit card for "Mr B Friday".


Apparently, the name was coined by Philadelphia police when discussing the high levels of traffic coming into the city on the Thanksgiving weekend. These required higher levels of policing and meant they were unable to take the day off.

From there, the term was gradually taken on by retailers. These days, you’ll most commonly see the name explained being as the first day of the year when retailers go from being “in the red” (not covering their costs), to “the black” (in profit).

Arrival in the UK

It’s pretty consistently been the busiest shopping day in the US calendar for some time now, but only crept its way over to the UK in the 2010s, via American companies like Amazon and Asda.

It really came into full force in 2014, when more British retailers, like John Lewis, joined in with their own deals.

Since then, the hype seems to have grown every year. In fact, last year, Barclaycard recorded that 1,184 transactions were made per second in one hour of Black Friday, and UK shoppers spent £8.57 billion online – the most in Europe.

In more recent years, since around 2005 in the US, Black Friday has been proceeded by Cyber Monday (and even Cyber Week). These days aim to boost online sales, rather than the physical, in-store shopping that was generally encouraged on Black Friday.

This has extended the reach of the heavily discounted buying period even further.

"approximately 40% of [Black Friday] purchases ended up in landfill in 2019"
The issue with Black Friday: Overconsumption

The issue with Black Friday


One of the first problems with Black Friday is that it feeds into the erosion of the community that slow living champions.

How Black Friday affects your community

You’ll likely be familiar with the concept of Black Friday inciting conflict between individuals, with many news reports of fighting within the hysterical crowds on the day.

Putting aside those shock-inducing headlines, Black Friday also affects our community in another way: favouring large, international companies, over those in our local area. This has a less blatant, but still detrimental, effect on our communities and those in them.

A large warehouse next to a small, independent business.

How small businesses suffer

Small businesses are often outcompeted by big retailers, as they generally

  • can’t afford to slash prices as heavily
  • don’t have access to the same promotional tools and advertising
  • have smaller workforces and budgets

During the pandemic

While we’re still dealing with a global pandemic, it may to be harder than ever for these businesses.

Depending on local restrictions, sales may need to take place online, and smaller businesses are less likely to have the infrastructure in place to handle large numbers of online sales. Plus, after 18 months of on-and-off closure, they may not have the means to hire enough staff to meet high demands.

These small, local businesses and the people behind them are important parts of a slow, sustainable community, and the enticing discounts elsewhere will make it harder for them to draw in their all-important sales in an already difficult year.


A lot of the issues with Black Friday are environmental, including the problem of overconsumption.

Pollution and waste

We probably all know by now that overconsumption is having a hugely detrimental effect on our planet. Any unnecessary purchase equals unnecessary waste associated with the production, transportation, packaging and eventual discarding of the item.

This may have been more significant than previously in 2020, with the expected higher numbers of online sales predicted to result in even more pollution caused by delivery (and potential return) of items – an estimated 429,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Encouraging unnecessary buying

Black Friday seems to especially encourage unneeded purchases.

Having such a narrow opportunity to snag the best deal (which is often highlighted strongly in advertising) increases the likelihood of impulse buys. Consumers don’t have time to fully consider their choices, having to act fast before items sell out.

This is reflected in the buyer’s remorse seen in high volumes of returns around this time. These reportedly cost retailers £362m in the same period of 2018, and approximately 40% of purchases ended up in landfill in 2019.

A delivery package.

Fast fashion

In addition to this, some of the most-purchased products in the Black Friday period are some of the most environmentally (and ethically) problematic all year round.

For example, shoes and clothing is the second most frequently bought category of items on Black Friday, with a number of fast-fashion sites aggressively marketing discounts on their already low prices.

A real-life example

For example, in 2018, notorious fast-fashion brand Missguided used a Black Friday countdown timer.

It started over a month before Black Friday, and offered to contact consumers directly via WhatsApp to provide them with the latest deals for the day. This made their sale literally unmissable.

Take a look at some screenshots in SaleCycle’s showcase of the scheme.

A drawing of the globe in a dustbin, with clothing piled on top.

The issue with fast fashion

This surge in purchases adds to the issues of worker exploitation, use of unsustainable and unbiodegradable materials, greenhouse gas emissions, and water and resource use.

For some more info and stats on the negative impacts of fast fashion, check out my article on reasons to shop vintage.


The top category on a lot of Black Friday shopping lists is electronics.

Black Friday is known for having great deals on the latest electronics, with many choosing to upgrade their phone, TV or household appliance on the day. And this impulse-buying of electronics, upgrading before we really need to and while the product is still working, is contributing to huge e-waste problems.

The issue with e-waste

We are the second largest producer of e-waste worldwide, and every year in the UK, 1.4 million tonnes of electronic waste ends up in landfill.

This waste not only results in dangerous toxins leaking into the environment, having a disproportionate effect on children, but also wastes precious resources. The elements in smartphones are rare and difficult to extract, with further release of toxins during the mining process required to replace lost resources. In addition, they will eventually run out – some reports say this could even happen within the next 100 years.

Despite the fact that parts of electronic devices – from your sim tray to your battery, buttons and screen – can actually be reused and repurposed, even if broken, many devices are sitting in our homes or sent to landfill. If you are based in the UK and are planning to buy a new device this Black Friday, check out the recycling options available for your old one here, or consider donating working items to charity.

A drawing of a pile of mobile phones.

Responsibility for e-waste

The blame for e-waste can’t all lie with the consumer, though. Surveys suggest high numbers of EU citizens would rather repair items than buy new, but often replacement parts are unavailable or repairs are difficult to complete.

Many manufacturers also build in obsolescence, forcing people to upgrade. Apple, for example, has actually admitted to slowing down older models of their phones with software updates.

That said, we can still do our best to buy and dispose of our own devices responsibly, including by trying to cut through the hysteria on Black Friday.

"every year in the UK, 1.4 million tonnes of electronic waste ends up in landfill."
The issue with Black Friday: E-waste

The alternatives: Green Friday

Instead of Black Friday, why not try participating in Green Friday this year?

This is a rival initiative, attempting to raise awareness of the negative environmental effects associated with these hefty discount days and encouraging people to make sustainable choices.

You can participate by following the steps below.

A drawing of the Earth in the colour green.

Buy nothing

I know how hard it is to avoid all the Black Friday hype, so I try to turn off alerts and notifications, unsubscribe from emails, and not get caught browsing from ads on social media. I’ll be trying my best to resist all the deals here too!

Maybe you could even spend the time that could be taken up browsing make a seasonal gift, decoration or card.

Make mindful purchases

Try to only shop for things you’ve been wanting or needing for some time, so you’ve had a while to evaluate the purchase.

I can see that Black Friday can be an opportunity to grab a bargain on items you already needed. My advice here would be to make sure you’ve thought through your purchase, and try to avoid browsing through other items when you go to add yours to the basket, no matter how good the deals may be!

Buy sustainably

Opt for local, small businesses where possible. This may be harder this year than previously, as you can’t just take a stroll around your neighbourhood and browse local stores, but so many businesses are just a quick social media search away, and may even be running their own deals.

If not local, try to go for businesses that make a conscious effort to lower their environmental impact. For example, some businesses are actually choosing to up their prices a little this Black Friday and will donate a portion of profits to environmental organisations.

It may also be a good day to find some second-hand deals! Have a browse through Depop or eBay to see if you can tick some items off Christmas wishlists.

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