Retailers Shed Light on Social and Environmental Issues by Staying Dark on Black Friday


By: Lindsey Snow, Senior Account Executive

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a trend of retailers choosing to forgo traditional marketing campaigns during one of the busiest and highest-grossing holiday shopping days (and weekends) of the year and Black Friday 2017 was no different.

Despite the fact that this may seem to go against everything we’re taught about traditional consumer marketing and retail, this decision shouldn’t come as a major shock given recent trends that consumers now hold companies to a higher standard. As we saw within Cone’s own 2017 CSR Study, in today’s climate, 86 percent of consumers expect companies to do more than just make a profit; they must operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues. And more importantly, they’re bringing these expectations to life through their purchases with 79 percent saying that whenever possible, they try to purchase products or services that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Given the increased expectations consumers have of retailers, it’s no surprise that this trend continued into 2017. Here’s a roundup of retailers from major brick-and-mortar companies, to online retailers and startups who opted out of traditional door-busters and flash sales, to power philanthropic giving this Black Friday:

  • Building off momentum from previous years, REI continued its #OptOutside campaign for the third consecutive year. This year, REI built on the program by launching an experiential search engine that enables users to search for outdoor activities based on a location, type of activity or hashtag, pulling from user-generated content on Instagram and augmented with real-time information on locations and experiences across the U.S.
  • Patagonia is a regarded by many as a trailblazer that strives to lead with purpose every day—and Black Friday is no different. This year, the company continued to build off its wildly successful 100% for the Planet campaign from last year, asking consumers to support environmental grassroots grantees directly through an interactive web map  that enables them to search for groups by location, find a volunteer opportunity, make a donation or find more ways to get involved.
  • Everlane, an online retailer, known as a leader in sustainable apparel and pricing transparency, continued The Black Friday Fund, this time to support workers in Vietnam at its Saitex Factory by partnering with Freight Farms to provide container farms and fresh, pesticide-free produce to 4,000 workers. Saitex matched Everlane’s contribution dollar for dollar, enabling the company to meet its goal of raising $300,000 to build the farm.
  • Another online retailer, ModCloth also decided to opt out of the Black Friday frenzy by shutting down its website, giving employees a day off and donating more than $5 million in merchandise to Dress for Success, while also helping consumers give back. The online retailer encouraged consumers to nominate local heroes giving back to the community by sharing the hashtag #BlackFridayBreakup with a photo on Twitter or Instagram and in return, participants could win $4,500 to support their cause or project.
  • EILEEN FISHER, a leader in sustainable fashion, was another brand that opted outside of the marketing playbook for Black Friday. During the holiday weekend, the company donated 100% of proceeds from its Love, Peru collection to locals in Arequipa, Peru as part of an alternative supply chain project that supports families by providing new childcare facilities, improved school services, clean water, domestic violence assistance programs and artisan training facilities.

Thanks to companies like Patagonia and REI, who are a true testament to how organizations can lead by example when they let purpose drive and integrate within their business operations, we’re now seeing more retailers follow suit and reconsider the way they approach Black Friday and holiday shopping. While we can’t predict whether or not this anti-Black Friday movement will continue in 2018, we can hope that retailers will continue to find ways to shed light on important social and environmental issues—even if it means going dark for a day.