On Black Friday, try showcasing your values instead of slashing your prices

Fred is the CEO and co-founder of Akeneo, a leading provider of product experience management (PXM) solutions to corporate retailers and brands. Prior to founding Akeneo, Fred was the e-commerce director at Smile, the largest open source system integrator in Europe. Since then, he has become a proven expert in e-business and open source having helped some of the largest retailers in the world (Chantelle, The North Face, Nestlé, Decathlon, etc.) build their e-commerce strategy.

This Black Friday, French cosmetics startup Typology won’t make a single euro cent in profit. That’s because instead of slashing prices and scrambling for customers, the company is launching a campaign called “#BlackForGood”, donating its profits to environmental charities. “This campaign is intended to be a positive and encouraging call to action for those who agree that Black Friday could be better,” says founder Ning Li.

Typology’s bid to counter rampant consumerism is exciting to see, especially as Black Friday evolves into a worldwide sensation. When I launched my own company, Akeneo, back in 2013, Black Friday was a purely American phenomenon. Fast-forward to present-day Paris, though, and you’ll see ads for Black Friday sales in every hypermarché you visit. 

It’s becoming clear that consumers around the world are hungry for creative, socially conscious approaches to Black Friday

The Black Friday shopping frenzy has now truly gone global: this November, shoppers everywhere from Latvia to Brazil will be flocking to their local malls and fighting over discounted handbags, clothing, and consumer electronics. Along the way, Black Friday has metastasised from a single day into a week-long festival of consumerism. Stores now start “Grey Thursday” sales on Thanksgiving night, and shoppers can also look forward to spin-off events like Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Fair-trade Tuesday.

Then there are the other discount events, from Amazon’s Prime Day to Overstock.com's Overstocktober, and local copycats like Mexico’s Buen Fin and the UAE’s White Friday events. This year, Macy’s, eBay, Target, and Walmart even staged a Black Friday in July summer sales event. 

Amid the near-universal sea of sales, how is any one brand supposed to stand out? Well, that’s why Typology’s approach is so interesting: with everyone rushing to slash prices, companies that swim against the current, and think a little differently or a little more creatively, have a real chance to grab shoppers’ attention.

One alternative Black Friday strategy is simply to refuse to participate. Since 2015, outdoor retailer REI has won endless column-inches with its #OptOutside campaign, with its 12,000 employees receiving a paid day off, and customers being urged to get out and enjoy some fresh air instead of trudging through a crowded mall. Other, slightly less committed companies make a point of closing their doors or limiting their hours on Thanksgiving Day, and brag about giving their employees a chance to spend some time with their families. 

REI’s decision to opt-out of Black Friday altogether is impressive, eye-catching, and certainly on-brand, but it’s hard for most companies to replicate. (Try telling your shareholders you’ve decided not to open on the busiest day of the year!) That’s why Typology’s #BlackForGood campaign is so smart: instead of simply turning its back on Black Friday consumerism, it’s hoping to harness it for good.

American consumers have seen #BlackForGood-style events before. In 2016, Patagonia saw a fivefold uptick in Black Friday sales after pledging to donate 100% of daily takings to environmental causes. More recently, online fashion retailer Everlane has pledged to remove 1lb of plastic from the ocean for every product it sells, while Cuyana is matching every item it sells with a donation to victims of domestic violence. 

For companies outside the United States, though, such campaigns are as new as Black Friday itself, and it’s exciting to see companies like Typology seeking new, socially conscious approaches instead of simply emulating American box stores, slashing prices, and hoping for the best.

It’s clear that shoppers, both in America and around the world, are hungry for creative, socially conscious approaches to Black Friday and consumer culture more broadly. According to one global survey, 81% of consumers want companies to help the environment, and almost half would switch from market-leading brands to support smaller, eco-friendly companies. And while four in five shoppers remain motivated by discounts and special offers, two-thirds say they’ll forego those savings and pay extra to support sustainable brands. 

While REI’s decision to opt-out entirely is eye-catching – and a tough sell for shareholders – Typology aims to harness Black Friday consumerism for good

That makes eco-friendly, socially responsible promotions like Typology’s #BlackForGood campaign a smart branding exercise. Increasingly, products are seen as embodiments of brands, and while consumers always want to get a great deal, they also want to support brands that share their values.

At Akeneo, we’re seeing that trend play out across all the markets we serve, in Europe, the United States, and worldwide. Companies are starting to understand that it’s important to be mindful about how they manage products, and to take a more careful and internationally informed approach to commerce. We’re seeing more and more clients warm to initiatives such as fair-trade sourcing, carbon footprint reduction, and recycling or second-hand purchasing programs. The #BlackForGood campaign is a sign of how effective it can be to commit to such strategies, and take mindful marketing and product management to the next level. 

As Black Friday spreads around the world, it’s creating big opportunities for brands that are bold enough to stand apart from the pack, and broadcast their values instead of simply slashing prices. If your company is brave enough to stand apart from the pack, take risks, and find creative, value-driven sales strategies, you too could find that this year’s Black Friday will be a holiday to remember.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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