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Why some brands aren’t offering Black Friday deals

Scaling back on Black Friday is a canny marketing tactic for brands like REI, Everlane, and TJ Maxx.

This morning, many Americans woke up to their local news channel running B-roll of wild-eyed customers stampeding into a Dick’s Sporting Goods or Best Buy or Macy’s. And if you don’t have local cable (like me), you may have awoken to a slew of emails offering 30 percent of that and 40 percent of this.

But despite the suffocating bombardment of Black Friday promotions, a small-but-growing number of brands aren’t offering deals. The most famous is REI; on Friday, the brand’s homepage displayed the text “We’re outside today,” over a picture of a snuggling couple watching the sunrise behind snow-capped mountains. Since 2014, the brand has given all of its employees, including hourly workers, Black Friday off and encouraged them to be active outside. You can still buy stuff online, but no deals are being offered.

HomeGoods, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx also don’t offer any Black Friday deals and aren’t open on Thanksgiving. A 2015 ad about the holiday explained “family time comes first.”

Smaller brands like Noah, an upscale men’s clothing store based in New York City, are using their anti-Black Friday stance to make a name for themselves. If you visited Noah’s site on Friday, you’d have seen a lengthy, all-caps statement about why they chose to close, accompanied by a recording of an Al Pacino monologue from the 1997 film The Devil’s Advocate.

The statement reads, in part, “Mindless consumption will be the end of us all. We are living in a time when over-consumption is actually contributing to the death and destruction of the world around us.” Some independent British boutiques are also boycotting the American-born holiday.

Other brands have employed the strategy of encouraging sales for charitable purposes. Everlane partnered with Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ocean preservation. The foundation has a number of programs, including one that aims to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean, and for every Everlane order made online Friday, they said they’d clean up one pound of plastic. At the top of Everlane’s homepage, a “Black Friday Fund” bar indicated how many orders have been made out of their 20,000 order goal.

Clothing and accessories brand Cuyana will also be donating 10 percent of their Black Friday proceeds to the California Wildfire Relief Funds. Neither brand is having a dedicated sale, but both are encouraging shopping by championing social and political activism.

Still, by not offering deals, these brands are potentially missing out significant revenue. According to the Balance, last year’s online sales rose 18 percent from the previous year and reached $7.9 billion. This year, 74 percent of Americans are projected to shop on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and the average adult is expected to spend $483.18, which makes overall spending of Americans more than $90 billion. So are these brands crazy to skip the deal on the consumerism’s favorite holiday?

Probably not. Anti-Black Friday sentiment is just as intoxicating as a good deal because, as it turns out, Americans don’t really like Black Friday commotion, especially when it spills into Thanksgiving. According to a MarketLive study, 65 percent of Americans hate or dislike the trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving.

Americans may like shopping, but they like having the moral high ground even more. Thanksgiving and Christmas are supposed to make us grateful for what we have, not ravenous for a discounted television. And many feel that Black Friday is the antithesis of that holiday spirit.

If a brand is able to align itself with a message of warmth and gratitude, it is employing a marketing tactic that doesn’t result in immediate sales, but may encourage loyalty. According to a 2015 study, 66 percent of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. For millennials specifically, this number jumps to 73 percent.

In other words, this anti-Black Friday stance isn’t necessarily to get you to buy less, but to charm you into possibly buying more — not now, but soon, and for many years to come.

This anti-Black Friday posturing also excludes anyone that may have a real need for things being sold at heavily discounted prices. As Kenneth Rogers, the associate dean of research in York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design told The Goods reporter Nadra Nittle, “Black Friday shopping isn’t always based in naked, shameless excesses of consumerism ... in very financially troubled times, Black Friday might be people’s only chance to have access to certain things, to buy what they need.”

So when retailers insinuate they are above Black Friday, they are also attracting a certain kind of customer — ones who don’t depend on discounts to get what they want. In fact, valuing an experience, like hiking a mountain, over material goods is an indication of class in itself. According to a 2017 study of social class and purchase satisfaction, those in lower socioeconomic classes gain more happiness from material purchases than experiential purchases.

Black Friday is an American tradition that forces us to wrestle with our own programming. As a staunchly capitalist society that claims to value family and tradition, a weekend that jams all those things into a few days can feel like a test; a choice between family and shopping.

And as retailers notice this struggle and take sides, opportunities open up for further brand definition. Even the most paradoxically anti-consumption Black Friday branding can ultimately mean more sales.

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