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Illustration by Liene Magdalēna

Is Black Friday Worth the Cost?

Black Friday is a week-long trick by companies to guile the customers into making impulsive purchases, but its consequences for the environment and the well being of retail workers are far more dire.

If you’ve ever registered your email at any store you’ve been to, chances are their Black Friday deals will start creeping up in your inbox a week before Thanksgiving. “BLACK FRIDAY MEGA SALE UP TO 90 percent” will be your good morning text for the rest of the month. And, truth be told, these headlines are often too tempting to leave unread. Black Friday, originally a U.S sales tradition, takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving. What follows is a kind of mass hysteria, with shoppers thronging to stores to purchase the latest and greatest on what appear to be discounted prices.
Recently, the tradition has made its way around the world, even to countries that do not celebrate the holiday. In 2014,, now, introduced the concept to the UAE, creating a massive drive for November sales in the country. The UAE was the fifth largest spender per consumer on Black Friday in the world, with consumers having spent an average of 1,069 Dirhams, equivalent of 291 USD, during Black Friday sales last year.
Even though the Thanksgiving sales in the UAE are often disguised under a spectrum of colors – white, yellow, red, and black – the result is the same: a consumerist culture that promotes overproduction and mass consumption.
For example, the introduction of fast fashion, which focuses on speedy low-cost clothes manufacturing, has significantly altered the fashion industry. Driven by fast fashion, the fashion business is expanding by the minute; clothes production sales have risen from US$ 1 trillion in 2002 to $1.8 trillion in 2015. It is expected that it will reach 2.1 trillion by 2025. According to Timeout, the average person buys 60 percent more items of clothing every year and keeps them for fewer years than before.
Black Friday sales are particularly popular in fast fashion stores like H&M and ASOS. During Black Friday sales, people have the tendency to buy clothing they don’t actually need because of the extensive market and social pressures. This creates extremely large amounts of textile waste that end up polluting oceans and agricultural lands. In the midst of our climate change crisis, we have to become aware of our resource consumption habits. The resources required to manufacture clothes for massive sales like Black Friday are straining the Earth’s production capabilities. The global apparel and footwear industry accounts for 17-20 percent of the industrial water pollution and up to 20 percent of pesticide use. However, because the fashion industry isn’t regularly perceived as a wasteful industry, it is expected that it will grow by 80 percent by 2030.
But the costs of Black Friday and flash sales are not only environmental, but also behavioral. Last weekend, there was a release for Yeezy shoes on Black Friday in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Hundreds of people lined up in front of the Adidas stores as early as 3:00 a.m. the previous day in both cities in order to get a pair.
“I stood in line for about an hour and a half. I was actually surprised when I found the right size pair by the time I got it,” said Alia Waleed, a freshman student who witnessed the release in Dubai.
“People who managed to get a pair were selling them outside the Adidas store for an additional 1500 AED to the latecomers, and surprisingly, people were actually buying them,” said Antony Tahan, a senior who attempted to get a pair at Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi.
The rush of Black Friday sales often drives people to take extremely impulsive decisions. Even though the deals made during sale weekends often end up costing consumers more than they were actually willing to spend, they are usually framed in a way that makes buyers feel that they have somehow won over the system. For instance, stores would present a 3 for 2 holiday offer, but the price for the 2 pieces they’re selling is actually the price for all three.
Additionally, Black Friday sales have a big impact on the workers supporting these sales. Online shopping purchases rates are now higher than ever, which means that employees at online stores are expected to prepare massive orders on the clock throughout the entire sales period. There’s nothing easier than adding a bunch of sale items to an online cart and checking them out with a click of a button, but what happens to the employees trying to put together thousands of orders per minute?
And because Black Friday sales have now shifted from being a one-day event to a week-long festival, the pressure on retail store workers is now even greater than before. Even though the pressure of a one-day mass sale is now reduced, employees are expected to maintain the sale status of stores for several days. This often leads to over exhaustion and extreme working conditions. More than 2000 German Amazon workers went on strike right before the Black Friday sales demanding better pay and working conditions, but there are many other employees who cannot afford to do the same.
Because most stores make huge sums of money as a result of such sales, these arguments would never compel them to consider the environmental and social costs of these sales. But if consumers begin to reduce their spending on Black Friday and other flash sales, stores will be forced to reevaluate their business models for sale periods and adjust to more sustainable production concepts.
The next time you witness a Black Friday or any other sale festival, I ask you to take a step back and ask yourself if whatever you’re buying is actually worth everything it’s exploiting.
Malak Yasser is a contributing writer. Email her at
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