‘Anti-Black Friday’: Inside brands’ alternative approaches to the shopping holiday

After the chaos of 2020’s holiday shopping season, many hoped that 2021 would be a return to normal. But with the immense delays happening in global shipping and Covid cases still high across the U.S., this Black Friday is shaping up to be just as hectic as the last.

Appropriately, an increasing number of brands and retailers are looking for alternative ways to approach Black Friday, beyond the standard day, weekend or week-long sale. Some brands are extending Black Friday deals throughout the entire month, some are releasing new product instead of discounting, and some are sitting out of the sales holiday altogether.

For example, Freitag, a Swiss bag brand, didn’t participate in Black Friday last year or the year before, closing down its online store and refusing any promotions. Last year, the company instead directed customers to its peer-to-peer bag trading program SWAP, which was new at the time. Freitag is one of several brands, including Deciem, Allbirds and Patagonia, that sits out of Black Friday regularly.

Freitag is continuing its tradition this week, closing on Black Friday and directing customers to SWAP. And the brand is spreading its “anti-Black Friday” message with a number of other brands: It partnered with bicycle brand Brompton, sneaker brand Flamingos Life, soap brand Soeder, wallet brand Secrid and active clothing company Oy to launch a series of initiatives around reducing consumption. 

Oy and Flamingos Life are both closing their online stores for Black Friday and directing customers elsewhere, such as a charity donation page. Secrid is offering a free repair service on Black Friday, and Brompton is offering one free bicycle ride to customers.

“This year, we wanted to take an even bolder stance against Black Friday than we did in the past two years. So we thought about how we could add more weight to our actions,” said Lis Isenegger, head of communications at Freitag. “We reached out to several like-minded brands earlier and invited them to join us with their own similar initiative.”

This year, Freitag will be devoting a small amount towards social media ads promoting its anti-Black Friday campaign for the first time, but otherwise, they are taking a low-tech approach, with just a newsletter and a few social media posts.

Beauty brand Allies of Skin also opted out of having a traditional Black Friday sale this year. Instead, the company started its holiday sales early, November 1, and spread it through the entire month of November. This came after last year’s Black Friday saw a 900% year-over-year increase in sales from 2019. 

“We saw a lot of frenetic buying,” said founder and CEO Nicolas Travis. “This year, we wanted to encourage a more purposeful approach. We shifted toward a platform where we offered lots of skin-care education with board-certified dermatologists. And we expanded the sale to the entire month of November. Now, any potential customer can take their time to learn about the products and buy one product at a time, then come back for more if they like the products. We believe in buying consciously and only buying what you need, without any time pressure.”

Lindsey Carter, founder and CEO of activewear brand Set Active, said she tries to do Black Friday differently every year. 

This year, for instance, the brand will release six days of new product drops leading up to Black Friday, with an accompanying social media campaign themed around high school. Carter said the idea was inspired by her own 10-year graduation anniversary. The products and colors all have names relating to school and school imagery is featured prominently in the marketing. 

“We keep the discounts the same. But in terms of what we drop, how we do it and the theme, we change it every year,” she said.

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