Black Friday Fever: It’s not only ‘consumer behaviour’ that needs addressing

2014 saw the biggest ‘Black Friday’ in the UK so far, the post-Thanksgiving retail discount day import from the US. The phenomenon started to filter in around 2003, with some maintaining scepticism about the American tradition; this year, however, it effectively became a requirement for all major (and many smaller) retailers.

And what a Friday it was. Stores were forced to close, police were called to break up the crowds (in at least 16 Tescos around the country), fights broke out between the discount shoppers and injuries ensued. This Guardian article gives examples of the lengths shoppers went to in their desperation to nab bargains: a shopper buying a Dyson without even wanting one; another buying two of everything, unaware of the price but confident that they were all bargains. A comment from Michael Moran today on Twitter notes how many of the discount TVs bought in the Black Friday fever are now up for sale on eBay and attracting no bids.

Although the Black Friday madness no doubt was a great success for the retailers that have been exploring increasingly manipulative ways to encourage us to part with our money, it was akin to some dystopic parody demonstrating the extremes of our consumer culture. And yet it was no parody.

In the current framing of the SDGs, a Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) goal has managed to remain in the programme. Whilst there is far more to SCP than changing ‘consumer behaviour’, this is quite often the focus in campaigns to move towards a more sustainable and equitable future – particularly those under the limited 10 Year Framework Programme for SCP. Clearly there is a need to change attitudes towards consumption, but placing responsibility unfairly and unrealistically at the feet of The Consumer will not get us far in tackling what is key issue in moving towards a safe operating space for humanity. The macro environment that has created and allowed such attitudes to flourish needs to be addressed in detail from the viewpoint of remaining within planetary boundaries and ensuring global equity, from all levels of governance arrangements, trade agreements and international investment, to the effects of our comparative social media culture.

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