This Friday, independent retailers across the country will shut down their websites, donate their profits to charity and plant trees as part of a renewed drive against the rabid consumerism encouraged by large online sellers offering deals for Black Friday.
About 85% of independent retailers will not participate this year in Black Friday, the day sellers claim to offer bargains and slash prices in an attempt to shore up custom before Christmas.
The number of retailers boycotting the event is the highest figure ever recorded by the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) and comes as part of a growing movement against huge online shopping websites such as Amazon that has gained traction since the start of the pandemic.
“I am donating 10% of Black Friday weekend sales to my local food bank,” said Zoe Roberts, founder of Out of the Box Gifts, an eco-friendly gift box shop based in Cheshire. “There is more than one reason that I dislike Black Friday – the main one is that I think it encourages us to purchase things that we don’t need and therefore increases waste.”
She also wants to highlight how impossible it is for small businesses to compete with larger retailers on that day. “Small businesses tend to keep their prices fair all year round and therefore can’t afford to discount heavily just before the busiest time of the year.”
Other independent retailers, such as Surrey-based Shutter Jewellery and secondhand children’s and maternity clothes retailer Build a Bundle in Cumbria, will plant trees on Friday as an antidote to the waste created by consumerism. “I try to do whatever I can to reduce waste. I’ll be planting 100 trees to give back to the planet rather than padding to the overconsumption by tempting people to buy more than they want or need,” said Sophie de Taranto, owner of Shutter Jewellery.
The founders of Pantee, a sustainable underwear brand, plan to switch off their website. “The only people able to access our site will be engaged members of our community that have signed up to our mailing list and got a password… no sales, no impulse buying,” said co-founder Katie McCourt. “Our message this Black Friday is to stop and think before you buy. Is it something you love? Is it something you need?”
Birmingham-based jeweller and goldsmith Ruth Mary Chipperfield will be releasing a video on Friday giving tips on how to repair jewellery on her website, ruthmary.com. “On anti-Black Friday, I’m encouraging people to look inside their jewellery box and instead of buying new, have treasured pieces repaired,” she said. “I’m saying: look at the great things you already have. You don’t need to buy anything new. Actually, a really nice Christmas present for some people might be a ring they thought was broken, but gets snuck out of their jewellery box by a loved one and is given to them on Christmas Day, completely restored.”
As the anti-Black Friday movement grows in popularity, many shoppers are not only turning back to their local high streets and markets but are increasingly looking online for ways to shop locally. On Facebook, a group called Not on Amazon was started last November and now has more than 157,000 members. Founded by Jamie Rackham, who runs a small upcycling business making furniture in the Forest of Dean, it is a place where owners of independent creative and artisan businesses can freely advertise the products they have made to others in the group.
“This time last year we were going to do some Christmas markets and they were all cancelled,” said Rackham. “At the same time, I heard about Amazon making a record amount of profits during lockdown. I thought: this is so wrong. They’re making all of this money and we’re being told we can’t operate our businesses. I’ve got to try and do something about this.”
He has been so taken aback by the success of his Facebook group that last week he launched a crowdfunding campaign for a gallery he has set up. He hopes to create a space where members of Not on Amazon can display their work for sale and come and share information and ideas with each other.
Last week also saw the launch of another website designed to showcase and generate sales for independent shops across the country. “It’s kind of sickening, what happened to our local high streets during the pandemic,” said Dr Jackie Mulligan, the founder of Shoplocalonline.org. “Small businesses weren’t allowed to trade, they were deemed non-essential in many categories. And then we saw a billionaire [Amazon founder Jeff Bezos] propelling himself into space. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
She set up the website partly as a response to Black Friday. “Black Friday is decimating the high street – it’s the Grinch that has stolen Christmas from smaller retailers. Small retailers don’t want to pay 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.”
Any independent retailer can join the website for free until the end of January, and she promises no commission will ever be taken on their sales. More than 4,000 small independent retailers in at least 100 towns and cities have signed up so far. “All the businesses that are on Shoplocalonline.org are real places: market stalls, pop-up shops, actual bricks-and-mortar businesses. If you care about those places, this is a chance to spend with them.”The website follows in the footsteps of Bookshop.org, which launched a year ago to support independent bookshops. It has generated almost GBP1.8m for nearly 500 bookshops.
Andrew Goodacre, head of Bira, said. “The pandemic has been very difficult for those retailers classed as non-essential. In the past 18 months they have suffered three lockdowns, weeks of restrictive regulations and are now just starting to build back their business. Christmas is going to be an incredibly important season for independent retailers.
“We know shoppers have returned to shopping on the high street as they start to prepare for the festive period but we need stronger sales in November and December to help retailers take on the many challenges that await them in 2022.”