For small businesses, the weekend of bumper sales from Black Friday through to Cyber Monday is not just a race they cannot keep up with, it is a race right to the bottom. No wonder most independents are not taking part.
The now classic Black Friday sale is big on discounts and small on nuance. Take 30 per cent off. Take 50 per cent off. As the big retailers paper their high street stores with bright yellow signs, the independent retailers feel the pressure to follow. But for many this simply isn’t a workable strategy. Their flexibility to drop their prices on a whim is much less.
Many discounts advertised are often inflated. One investigation by Which? has claimed as many as 90 per cent of Black Friday deals are the same price – or even cheaper – than the six months before the weekend of sales in 2020. Out of 201 items from six retailers, 184 were the same price before Black Friday.
With its focus on price, it also lacks any appreciation of the nature of value.
Many independent retailers rely on the festive period to make their margin – and that is in a normal year. Add to that months of restrictions, layer on supply chain cost rises and delays, staff shortages and rising finance costs, and there just is no room to breathe for most small businesses. This is no time to be asking them to slash their prices.
But this is not just about the small businesses themselves, many consumers are joining the Black Friday backlash. Their behaviour has dramatically changed in the last two years. The shift to shopping local and shopping small has been accelerated by lockdown restrictions that re-connected us with our local areas, but it was already a growing trend. If there was ever a time to ask ourselves if a day of hyped up sales is appropriate for a modern era, it’s now.
The value small businesses provided to support communities and customers during the crisis captured hearts and minds. Indeed, over half of us are supporting small businesses more, according our research with American Express. The antithesis of Black Friday and its ilk is Small Business Saturday. Last year, over £1bn was spent with independent businesses as part of a positive, alternative campaign to celebrate small firms.
Consumers are of course often a fickle lot, and with rising living costs, can they really afford to not jump on the Black Friday deals? The truth is, the broader costs of saving a few pennies are too high.
One recent poll suggested people are more worried about climate change than they are about the pandemic. Consumers are rethinking, en masse, their carbon footprint and consumerism. There is more of a focus on value and reducing waste; there is an appreciation of local providers and local supply chains, and an increased understanding on how they are better for the planet. Savvy small businesses are tapping into this trend and for many it is paying off in an encouraging pre-Christmas upswing – for the environment as well as for the small businesses.
If it is not saving the planet or saving small businesses that drives you to eschew pumped up sales perhaps it is wanton self-interest?
Money spent in local small businesses is much more likely to stay in the community. It will end up paying local people, supporting other local businesses (butchers support farmers, book shops support local writers, pubs back local breweries and distilleries etc.) and ultimately our friends and family.
But even more than this, if we strip out the value in our local businesses, we will be left with little to bring joy and delight to our local high streets.