How should social enterprises respond to Black Friday?

Can social enterprises afford to ignore the marketing opportunity that is Black Friday?

Today is Black Friday, the day on which retailers offer big discounts and chaotic scenes of consumer frenzy ensue.

The day originated in the US; it is the day after Thanksgiving and marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping period, coinciding with the last payday before Christmas. In the last few years the day has become a significant date in UK retail calendars, but is not without controversy and some undesirable consequences.

Following mayhem in its stores last year, Asda announced that this year it will not focus discounts on the single day. Last year the UK saw arrests for abuse of and violence against shop workers and in the US there is even a BlackFridayDeathCount site listing injuries and deaths attributed to the day. Indeed, the nickname 'Black Eye Friday' rings true in many stores.

Despite the controversy, Visa Europe is predicting consumers to spend £1.9bn this year, a huge increase on the £810m spent last year. So as the founder of a consumer-facing social enterprise, Black Friday is not something to ignore.

From Babies with Love is the baby brand that donates 100% of its profits to orphaned babies. Our organic baby clothes, blankets, teddy bears and accessories are ethically sourced. For example, our clothes are made from certified organic cotton and our teddy bears are filled with beads made from recycled plastic bottles, reducing waste that would otherwise go to landfill.

With our social mission and ethical supply chains in our minds and hearts, the idea of participating in and promoting manic discount shopping doesn’t sit well. Huge discounts can squeeze supply chains to deliver at lower prices – putting pressure on fair trade values. 

We operate commercially however, alongside many traditional business competitors, and we do offer discounts. For example we’re participating in Social Enterprise UK’s Buy Social Advent Calendar, encouraging consumers to Buy Social this Christmas and incentivising with a discount. Of course, the more we sell, the more orphaned and abandoned children we support, but heavy discounts that result in low margins, or even selling at a loss, means less help reaching them.

So what should we do on Black Friday? How should social enterprises position themselves? If we ignore it, will we simply lose out on a fantastic day of sales? 

Social enterprises feeling uncomfortable with Black Friday are not alone. Book retailers around the country have introduced 'Civilised Saturday'.  Fair trade retailer Traidcraft is promoting 'Mind your manners, its #JustFriday' on Twitter, encouraging people to shop with thought. In the US, the outdoor clothing brand REI is closing its stores on Black Friday, encouraging people to #OptOutside and spend the day in nature instead. And in the UK, clothing retailer Fat Face has said that instead of discounting it is donating 10% of its net profits to local charities.

At From Babies with Love, instead of focussing on Black Friday, we’re promoting Buy Social Christmas. Buying from social enterprises means that consumers wanting extra value from their purchases can feel wonderful about their shopping and the social change their products create, the opposite of feeling stressed or even injured in a Black Friday frenzy. The phrase we’ve come up with for this alternative approach is #TheNewBlack and we’ll be promoting it as such with that hashtag on Twitter. We hope you’ll help us spread the word to promote the kind of consumerism that has real value.

Photo credit: John Henderson