Brands have a duty to care for consumers' financial and mental wellbeing this Black Friday

23 November 2018. Put it in your diaries. Because love it or loathe it that is the date of this year’s ‘Black Friday’.

While Black Friday is a relatively new phenomenon here in the UK, it has been going since the 1940s in the US when department stores started discounting on the day after Thanksgiving to drive people in store on their day off (think a bit like Boxing Day sales here in the UK).

The presence of Black Friday in the retail calendar here in the UK is largely credited to Amazon offering Black Friday deals back in 2010. As with many imports from the other side of the pond, it has both supporters and detractors. The chaotic scenes in UK stores from 2013 onwards gave Black Friday a very negative reputation – with many associating it with a very stressful experience at best, and selfish consumerism at worst.

Regardless of your views on it, there is no doubt that Black Friday has changed our shopping landscape. Search interest in Black Friday has grown 242% over the last five years according to Google Trends. For many consumers, it is now treated as the start of the Christmas shopping period. And sales figures from 2017 bear this out – sales that would have traditionally taken place in December were brought forward into November.

But how does the rise of Black Friday really affect consumers?

Some 64% of British consumers are intending to participate in Black Friday in 2018, but with the average spend last year sitting at £300, it’s a big commitment. Behaviourally there are lots of things at play that lead us to easily getting swept up in the event.

Firstly, many people are intending to spend on electronics goods this year. Following an initial purchase, it’s then easy to get caught up in the ‘momentum’ and add other items, items you may not need or be able to afford. This is especially true when the initial purchase is a big-ticket item. We feel pain upon spending money (pain that is equivalent to physical pain), but after buying a £300 TV there is no additional ‘pain’ to adding an Xbox for the kids or a new Sonos speaker for yourself.

Moreover, not all deals are as good as they look. A Which? investigation showed only half the deals on offer around Black Friday 2017 were genuine discounts with the rest breaking the government guidelines. It is easy to let the cognitive bias of a ‘halo effect’ sink in, whereby deals look good by association.

People losing sight of what their priorities are is a recipe for consumer debt. Step Change, the Debt Charity, has previously warned that with Black Friday and pre-Christmas spending that there is real risk of more people struggling with high levels of persistent debt. And with persistent debt comes worry and stress for thousands, if not millions, which can in turn lead to anti-social behaviour, relationship conflict, breakdown, isolation and depression.

This isn’t to say that Black Friday is essentially bad, but as a brand owner if you aren’t careful it could be bad for the health of your consumers, and arguably bad for the health of your brand.

What does this all mean for brands this Black Friday? Any brand that is looking to create long-term customers needs to think about both the short and long-term implications of the actions for their customers. Black Friday can be a great way to reward loyal customers as well as gaining introductions to new customers, but brands have a responsibility to help consumers navigate it in a way that avoids regret and pushing them into financial hardship.

There are number of ways that responsible brands can help to support their customers this Black Friday:

1. More than just a day

Spreading sales event over longer than just a day makes it less stressful for consumers, ensuring they are less likely to shop in a ‘hot state’ – there’s benefit for retailers too as it allows for better management of back-end logistics.

2. Well refreshed

When people are tired, hungry or otherwise depleted their ability to make good decisions falters. Brands can encourage customers to shop when they are well refreshed to help with good decision making, or offer refreshments instore.

3. Focus on the really good deals

You want your customers to feel good about their purchase with you – once the excitement has died down you don’t want them to regret or return any additional items they purchased.

Brands with an eye on the health of their brand should look after the mental and financial health of their customers. Encourage them to enjoy Black Friday with you but help them avoid the financial hangover in January.

Jane Asscher is chief executive and founding partner at 23red

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