This week, a look at the evolution of Black Friday strategies, including how younger sustainable brands are addressing the shopping event at a time when customers are hunting for deals. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
This year, brands are using Black Friday to test new retail and marketing strategies. With even massive companies like Walmart expecting more cautious consumer spending this holiday season, more brands are seeing the shopping event as being less about offering deals and more about being a tool for customer acquisition and loyalty through marketed values.
In a 2020 survey from consulting company McKinsey & Co., 66% of all respondents and 75% of millennial respondents say that they consider sustainability when making a purchase. In 2011, Patagonia was one of the most prominent brands to take a stand against Black Friday consumerism with a bold New York Times ad carrying the phrase, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” Brands have since been following its lead.
For 30-year-old Swiss bag brand Freitag, Black Friday hasn’t been about discounts in five years. Instead, the brand has made a habit of closing its online stores. It’s also collaborated with other brands, like Mud Jeans and Raeburn, on clothing swaps and repair workshops where customers can engage with sustainability initiatives.
This year, it is going a step further, closing registers in 28 out of 30 of its global stores, in a move to encourage shoppers to avoid purchasing new goods on Black Friday. The remaining two stores, which are located in China, closed their checkout counters on Singles Day earlier this month.
“Financially speaking, it is only one day of the year. But even if you don’t do discounts, it’s typically a strong sales day because it’s quite close to Christmas,” said Elisabeth Isenegger, brand representative for Freitag. “However, this campaign is our bottom line. Promoting conscious consumption instead of just promoting to buy more is very much our brand’s identity and where we come from.”
Instead of purchasing products, in-store customers on Black Friday will be able to borrow a Freitag bag for free for two weeks. The brand offers a similar two-week free rental program that runs over the summer for holiday travelers. This year, the summer program had 600 signups globally.
“We still have a few customers who visit our store on the day and just want to buy a bag or want a discount,” said Isenegger. “So instead, we explain to them what we have been doing on Black Friday since 2019 and why we do it. This is also part of the campaign. Typically after this exchange, the customer changes their viewpoint from disappointment to understanding and, at best, can be inspired to take part in more conscious consumption.” According to the brand, this has led to very loyal customers, though it didn’t disclose retention rates in time for this story’s publication.
Meeting customers in-store to explain an Anti-Black Friday stance is popular. The 11-year-old barefoot-feel footwear brand Vivobarefoot is also using this Black Friday to focus on circularity, including its refurbishment platform ReVivo.
“Three years ago, when we launched ReVivo, we decided we weren’t doing Black Friday discounts anymore,” said Tandi Tuakli, head of ReVivo, Vivobarefoot’s circular program. “Instead, we asked people to send in their old Vivo products to support ReVivo. If they really wanted to buy something, they could buy refurbished and discounted products instead.”
Over the last three years, the brand has refurbished 121,000 pairs and sold close to 115,000 pairs. Vivobarefoot is projected to close 2023 at $91 million in revenue. Every year, about 20 billion pairs of shoes are made industry-wide, and within less than five years, more than 300 million pairs end up in landfills, according to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
On Black Friday, in its single store in London’s Covent Garden, the brand is offering visible mending workshops with repair specialist Tessa Solomons for a small group of customers. It’s also giving out free footwear care products and tools, and advice on shoe maintenance from repair specialist Solomons. Visible mending is a practice that keeps the thread on a repaired area visible, and it’s typically in an embroidered pattern. Solomons is also contributing to online tutorials that will be posted on the ReVivo website for customers who can’t attend the workshop.
Vivobarefoot has seen great results from its refurbishment channel — 50% of its ReVivo customers are new customers. The brand promotes the platform through its e-commerce platform, as well as on social media. Tuakli believes that ReVivo’s popularity comes down to the price. The refurbished products can be up to 50% cheaper than the new ones, and all are cleaned and repaired by the brand for further use.
With the popularity of the program, the brand is hoping to move its refurbished products into retail. Next year, it will move into a bigger store, though it will likely keep its original location, which it will dedicate to selling refurbished styles.
“It would be beneficial for people to be able to see the quality in person because we sell things in different conditions and repair items and change parts out,” said Tuakli. “If you’re not familiar with going to thrift shops or shopping secondhand online, coming into our store and being able to see the product firsthand could be something that convinces you to do that.”
Meanwhile, other brands with a focus on sustainability are focusing their Black Friday efforts on retaining customers when competitors are offering steep discounts.
“When it is a hard economic time, that’s where our full-price strategy has really resonated with our community, because there’s that trust,” said Ginny Seymour, managing director of womenswear brand Aligne. “At the end of the day, when anyone’s parting with money, they want to make sure they’re getting the right value.” Instead of Black Friday discounts, the brand is donating one garment per purchase to SmartWorks, a U.K. charity that provides clothing for women in job interviews.
“It’s a brand’s responsibility to look at promotions and the behavior we’re creating, and create a more authentic relationship around what the price of the product is,” said Seymour. “This goes hand in hand with brands becoming more sustainable, making sure that we’re buying the right amount of product for the demand that exists and not over-inflating the demand through lowering the price.” Aligne discounts its products twice a year after a shopping season to get rid of old stock.
“There is a movement across brands trying to right-size inventories now, as promotions typically don’t work long-term for other brands, either,” said Seymour. “Everyone’s dream is to be able to sell at full price and create this full-price behavior. The way you do that is by making customers not feel like if they just wait it out to the weekend, they’re going to get a percentage-off code.”
But not every brand can afford to not take part in discounting. For younger brands, it’s harder to opt out of the shopping holiday that typically brings in more customers.
“If every sustainable brand opts out of the biggest shopping holiday of the year, what’s left?,” said Vittoria Tomassini, founder of athleisure brand Nuttch, which launched this year with Italian-made products. The brand has grown 100% every quarter.
As a result, the brand is donating 10% of its revenue this month to carbon-neutral projects and charity organizations like World Wide Fund for Nature, while still offering 30% discounts to entice new customers. “We have a lot of competitors,” said Tomassini. “The sustainable fashion market is a highly saturated market. With it being this crowded, it’s important to offer customers an affordable option that still has a comprehensive approach to sustainability, covering every stage of the production process.”