Why eCommerce 'Mega Sales Events' Spoil Consumer Shopping Habits And Generate More Waste

eCommerce Mega Sales Events are almost as common as the holidays themselves: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day, Prime Day and other similar sale days are a ubiquitous part of the shopping calendar, while creating a culture where many consumers binge shop on items they see on sale, without possibly needing them. In fact, a 2022 Statista report showed that just across Europe, online transactions appear to quadruple (4x) on Black Friday, in countries such as Denmark, Norway, Finland, Spain and Portugal and triple (3x) in other big Europe countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Italy. On top of that activity, the average number of items per order appear to grow by 100% as European retailers report.

The convenience of online shopping coupled with this continued focus on mega sales events has created a new wave of consumerism that both brands and platforms have taken advantage of. Yet an overlooked aspect of these sales events is the waste that is generated from these sales, usually through the consistent disposal of old items just in time for the new products to be purchased. In this article, we will explore some of the key drivers of waste in shopping holidays, the brands that stand out against these practices, as well as the next steps that we need to take in order to move towards something much more sustainable.

Shopping Holidays, E-Waste and the Consumer Shopping Impact

It may be tempting to attribute all these to the general consumer trend that we have in the modern marketplace, but recent studies from Material Focus have indicated that nearly 5 million electronic devices were estimated to have been disposed of directly following the UK’s BlackFriday and New Year’s shopping spree.

Even if it wasn’t through the usual consumer electric devices that are a popular purchase when the holidays come along, the ready availability of holiday-related amenities has also exacerbated the already heavy environmental impact that gift shopping creates. The same research indicates that something as simple as the regular consumption ofChristmas lights has generated roughly 573,000 kilometres of e-waste, enough totravel to the moon and a half.

It's hard to convince the average consumer not to shop during these massive sale blowouts, with the average discount of 45% off the retail price enough to tempt most individuals to shop from their usual repertoire of brands. Yet this practice just further reinforces that many of these purchases are not needed, with the consumers returning 1 in 5 of all Black Friday purchases.

Brands Attempting to Break the Cycle

Not every brand is interested in participating in this often stressful and wasteful holiday spending. As more of the general public develop an understanding that sale season isn’t the only time to shop and that real value can be attained through shopping thoughtfully and sustainably, some popular brands have attempted to reflect that understanding. A 2022 Forbes article highlighted these 10 Brands going against the Black Friday trend - a trend we hope to see growing much more in 2023.

One of the most interesting stories of a company taking an anti-Black Friday stance is Patagonia, which is also noted for its many sustainability initiatives and its overall focus on the environment. Patagonia has been making waves with its focus on ethically sourced materials and its 1% give-back initiative. Not only does Patagonia forego any special Black Friday sales, but in 2019 they’ve matched all donations made through their PatagoniaAction Works platform, which supports grassroots organizations fighting the climate crisis. This company has actually introduced the WornWear program back in 2013, which adopt circular production techniques in utilizing discarded Patagonia materials to develop new products.

The trend of businesses breaking the holiday shopping cycle doesn’t just fall on the directly environmentally conscious brands. IKEA's #BuyBackFriday is another great example of a company taking advantage of this trend, highlighting its larger, long-term sustainability goals and get customers involved in the movement. IKEA used Black Friday to encourage its customers to sell their used and unwanted furniture back to the store instead of just throwing it away.

And while most large eCommerce platforms are tempted to play the game, AllBirds.com is opting for a Green Friday instead of Black Friday approach, flipping the tradition and calling for consumers to ‘Break tradition, not the planet’. On Black Fridays, instead of slashing prices, Allbirds is raising them and doubling its commitment to sustainability. All prices across its entire collection increase by £1 and are matched by £1 by the brand, with the additional proceeds going directly to Fridays For Future, the youth-led international climate movement founded by climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Independent Retailers Against Black Friday

Big-name brands aren’t the only firms looking to stop the big sale practice that Black Friday and other similar holidays have. Independent retails across the UK have banded together to curb the usual drive to get something new in the holidays, spreading instead a message of ethical consumption and possible reusing of already owned items.

TheGuardian reports that one such independent retailer located in Birmingham opted to promote their jewellery repair business instead of outright sales, hoping to instil the idea that some pieces already owned can still serve theirpurpose with a bit of maintenance. Other reports from the same article have also been organized online, utilizing platforms like Facebook as a method to connect with locally-based independent businesses instead of giant retailers like Amazon (the group is aptly named “Not on Amazon”).

Another similar website also attempted to curb the massive traffic that usually ends up on Amazon, with Dr.Jackie Mulligan starting Shoplocalonline.org. Small retailers don’t want to paya 30% commission to an online giant, they don’t want their things coming out of a fulfilment warehouse. They just want to be able to serve their customers.” Dr. Mulligan says.

How Circular Economies Can Curb Consumer Waste

The massive spending and waste that occurs during Black Friday are all just a symptom of a larger systemic problem that occurs in today’s modern business environment, where unfettered demand and unsustainable practices continuously cause harm to the environment as a whole. While consumer behavior is partly to blame for these issues, ethical shopping habits can only go so far when tackling the sustainability aspect of commerce as a whole. Firms need to reevaluate their value chains and their approach to business as a whole towards more circular methods to ensure long-term business sustainability and zero environmental impact.  

We’re already starting to see such shifts happening in some of the biggest firms that operate within the global markets today. Nike, for example, has already begun adopting circular practices within their design of athletic wear, integrating production waste towards the manufacturing of their products. Philips, one of the global leaders in consumer technologies, is also looking towards developing more robust circular manufacturing lines. They’re currently working towards meeting their 2025 goals of generating 25% of their revenue from circular products, services, and solutions, as well as offering trade-in solutions for all professional medical equipment.

Apple has been vocal in calling for a shift towards a circular economy, with many of their recent projects working towards their ultimate goal to be fully carbon-neutral in 2030 and the amazingly inspiring film of Mother Nature they recently published, highlighting the progress they make in this space. From iPhone dismantling robots to sustainable computer chip manufacturing, Apple has surely begun its transition from a purely product-driven value chain towards something more circular in design. Their recent focus on their services, such as AppleTV andApple+, have also signaled a possible shift towards a product-as-a-service model that many circular value chains have adopted as well.

It remains key that businesses, both big and small, begin reviewing how they plan to move towards the future in a globally interconnected world. The environmental impact that current standard business practices have is undeniable. Therefore,  a real commitment and action towards designing and building a future society that adopts a truly circular economy can improve how we perceive value as a whole, especially in the holidays to come.

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