Martin Luther King once said “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”
This quote has echoed and reverberated through my consciousness all week in the run up to Black Friday Cyber Monday as retailers kick off their festive sales early in the run up to Christmas.
In the US alone, over 133 million people will consume products in shops and online this, with retail chains Best Buy, Kmart and JC Penneys leading the way with the number of ads that appear when people Google “Black Friday”.
Needless to say, corporations are somewhat revelling in this consumer chaos.
The likes of Amazon whose imminent launch in Australia has sent ripples of anxiety across the retail sector, reported that their Black Friday sales grew by 29% last year.
With Jeff Bezos waking up this morning to a $100 billion-dollar fortune – thanks to a $2.4 billion surge in sales yesterday.
Similarly, software giant Adobe enjoyed similar success reporting their sales increased by 25 percent on Thanksgiving Day to $1.73 billion versus last year.
There’s no signs of this momentum slowing up anytime soon, which is music to the ears of many retails hoping to lessen the effects of a shrinking economy.
Here in Australia, GDP fell by 0.5% in September, and in the UK, Black Friday sales projections are keeping (some) Brexit jitters at bay.
But for me, the whole thing just doesn’t sit right.
The same way it didn’t when I celebrated my first Australia Day in January 2013.
Fitting in vs standing out
At the time, it felt like celebrating this day was the “right thing to do”.
Indeed it was my first attempt to “assimilate”.
The truth is, I had no idea what Australia Day was about beyond beers on the beach and bbq’d sausages.
I gained clarity on the context of this day when I witnessed first hand indigenous people crying and howling in the streets, walking with banners that read things like “Today is Invasion Day!”.
At the time, I was living in a remote part of Western Australia where many Aboriginal communities had been displaced and forced to assimilate into man-made industry towns that had been built on their sacred land.
The more I did my research, the more I became shocked and saddened that I was celebrating something that for many was a significant day of mourning.
I was literally dancing on their graves.
So equipped with this new found knowledge, I chose to empathise with the people mourning for the loss of their land, their communities and their liberty.
This memory has been at the forefront of my thoughts this week.
One I’ve replayed in the run up to the hangover of Thanksgiving that is Black Friday.
For one, there’s the obvious parallel to be drawn between Thanksgiving and Australia Day in relation to the genocide of indigenous people (that’s a rather long and emotive article within itself)
Plus both historical events have been leveraged by for-profit organisations as a way to make more money fast.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making money.
But I do believe that it’s your impact that determines your income and we, as business owners all have a responsibility to carve out what that impact looks like for now and for the future.
You see, this isn’t a matter of commerce, it’s a matter of conscience.
After all, how can we empower people to make conscious decisions, when they’re in a frenzy?
The answer is you can’t.
The real driving force
Black Friday Cyber Monday had become a macro-spending concern with entire nations leaning on it as a vehicle to alleviate their economic woes.
Yes small businesses from all over the world may be getting on board and somewhat blindly tagging along for the ride in the hope for a surge in sales.
But the truth is, this weekend is a way to stir people up into a frenzy so they open their purses and wallets without real consideration.
So pre-occupied with the dopamine buzz of red banners, flashing giphs and mobile notification pings, emotions get stirred leading to shop stampedes and rising credit card debt.
According to Google trends, South Africa now leads the way for the most interest in Black Friday, with the United States in 3rd position after none other than Romania.
This is what Neil Roets, CEO of one of South Africa’s largest debt counselling companies, Debt Rescue, had to say about Black Friday Cyber Monday:
“Taking place on Friday November 24, many retailers and online shops have promised deals that would tempt even the most financially distressed amongst us. The short answer is – don’t. For the past several years we have seen the impact that Black Friday and Christmas shopping sprees have had on consumers when they approached us to try and get them out from under the financial mess that reckless spending has caused. Retailers who are themselves in deep trouble because of the contracting economy have come up with a host of clever ideas to tempt consumers to open their wallets and purses which is how the idea of Black Friday was born.” Source
At a time when fast fashion is filling up landfill sites at a rapid rate, it’s down to ethical retailers to put in place plans and strategies that empower their customers to slow down the pace.
The fashion industry alone is the second biggest pollutant in the world after oil so at this stage, less really is more, and quality over quantity is a motto than every ethical retailer should be adopting.
It’s important to note the historical context too, because this has a direct impact on how people feel about this weekend and their expectations from ethical retailers.
After all, nobody wants to be left feeling like Kendall Jenner in a Pepsi ad.
Yesterday my American friends embarked on the start of their Thanksgiving or as make of them call it “Thanksliving”
It was great to see the vegan community transforming this weekend into an opportunity to shed light on the 32 million + turkey lives lost in the US every year.
My Facebook feed was filled with content centred around turkeys being friends not food, coupled with cute videos of Ester The Wonder Pig and her new turkey friend which warmed the hearts of millions of people.
It reminded me of Maya Angelou’s timeless quote
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
If you’re a retailer reading this, ask yourself how do you want your customers to feel this weekend?
And if you’re a customer I urge you to remember Tyler Durden’s famous words:
The things you own, end up owning you.
As a marketer, I will continue to educate and empower customers to make conscious decisions.
After all, what’s the alternative?