COVID can't stop Black Friday

Discounting the Pandemic

By Luca Carlesi | November 27, 2020

Metro reporter Luca Carlesi looks at the effect of the pandemic and sustainable fashion on Black Friday shopping. Cover image by Dimitri Houtteman.

While most European countries are in the midst of strict lockdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Netherlands appears to have some of the lightest regulations in place. This bodes well for patrons of Black Friday shopping.

With Christmas around the corner, Black Friday is one of the last chances to buy gifts that, in a couple of weeks, will jump to ridiculous prices for all of the last-minute shoppers. The event is spreading exponentially throughout Europe every year and we don’t seem to be far off from the classic American chaos associated with Black Friday – remember all of those images and videos of people fighting to be the first to enter shops on the last Friday morning of November?

Unfortunately, the pandemic and social distancing regulations haven’t deterred swaths of people from gathering in the centre of Amsterdam in search of the best deals. Shops are ready to offer great discounts in an attempt to maximize the sales, especially after the losses incurred during most of this year. While the excitement for the sales seems to be widespread, environmental activists – not just from the Netherlands, but all over the world – didn’t miss the opportunity to send a message to the consumerist population.

Extinction Rebellion, one of the largest environmental organizations in the world, actively protests against Black Friday every year and tries to highlight that such behavior causes a substantial peak in the production rate of non-essential goods, posing a threat to the planet’s long-term well-being.

During the last few years, the Dutch division of Extinction Rebellion has organized performances, protests and workshops across the Netherlands’ major cities, majorly targeting Black Friday in their fight to save the environment. Details about events are spread across social media platforms where action groups can be organized. Everyone is encouraged to contribute in their own way; from having an active presence in the shopping areas and distributing informative leaflets, to organizing workshops that teach the public how to repair old clothes instead of buying new ones.

The activists’ hard work seems to have had some impact on people’s sense of responsibility. Maggie, 26, has been working in different shops in the city centre for almost a decade. She has noticed how “every year it looks like less and less students are interested in the deals. It’s becoming more common to see older people entering the shop and almost surprising when teenagers walk through the door.” While it sounds like Black Friday is losing its appeal amongst the younger generation, Jessica, 31, an experienced activist has a different perspective. She has protested against the event in more than five countries and says, “it is true that more and more youngsters are moving to our side of the street, but while many of them don’t show up in the city centre, it doesn’t mean they are not supporting the shops. Online shopping is taking over and students can take advantage of the deals from their homes.”

While it is becoming quite common to support organisations fighting global warming and consumerism, many people still can’t resist the discounts. An anonymous online survey with students in their 20s revealed that 90% of them were aware of the environmental problems Black Friday poses. At the same time 75% of the people that took the survey confirmed that they bought something, or were planning to, during Black Friday week.

Eva, 61, who spent over 30 years studying ways to stop global warming, is concerned with this growing trend. She says, “fighting has become nothing more than a fashion, I see people showing signs on the streets with a new pair of jeans every day. A lot of misinformation is being created: it looks like people are starting to understand, but everybody keeps buying. If we closed every factory on the planet today, the whole world population would have enough clothes for the next 25 years, and if people don’t hurry up realizing this, it is just going to get worse.”

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