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Black Friday: is it helpful or harmful to small businesses?

Two business owners checking product before delivering to customer

Independent retailers may be wondering how to approach November’s global sales day. Do customers expect it – and what are the alternatives?

And with rising costs continuing to impact small businesses and consumers, and a growing focus on sustainability, it will be interesting to see the reaction to Black Friday this year.

Simply Business spoke to some small businesses to find out how they feel about Black Friday, and how consumers can do their bit to support local shops.

First, what is Black Friday?

Originating in the US, Black Friday is now a worldwide sales event that sees retailers offer products for a discounted price.

Deals can often be seen throughout the month of November though, and continue through to Cyber Monday.

Black Friday usually kickstarts people’s Christmas shopping and marks the beginning of a busy sales period for high street and online retailers.

When is Black Friday 2023?

Black Friday is always the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. That means this year Black Friday falls on Friday, 24 November 2023.

As Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November each year, Black Friday is always at the end of the month.

Cyber Monday 2023 is on 27 November.

Should small businesses do Black Friday?

Whether or not you decide to promote Black Friday deals for your small business depends on what feels right for you and your business strategy.

However there’s a growing movement against Black Friday with many retailers choosing not to take part.

Sarah, the owner of online vintage headware shop, Sarah’s Doo-Wop Dos, explained why she’s decided to opt out of Black Friday sales this year:

“I don’t feel that offering such a huge discount on my handmade designs (as people expect for Black Friday) is beneficial to me or sets the right tone with my customers.”

However one indepdendent artist, Toyosi, values the increased exposure her art can get during the Black Friday season.

She told us: “As a small business owner, visibility is super important. I’m also a black female founder so have had multiple barriers to overcome in business. This means utilising high demand deals like Black Friday is a useful strategy for sales and customer acquisition.”

Whatever approach small business owners choose, many are focused on staying true to their values.

Sarah said: “Some consumers might be more hesitant to engage in excessive purchasing, preferring to spend more mindfully and supporting businesses that align with their values.”

For some businesses, they feel it’s possible to take part in offering discounts while using the increased exposure to highlight key marketing messages.

Toyosi said: “I think sustainability is important, but making customers aware of how the products are made and sourced or recycled can be a point of emphasis even during the sales season.”

‘Turning it green’

The owner of sustainable underwear brand, Y.O.U underwear, Sarah Jordan, told us they think it’s important to acknowledge Black Friday – but in their own way.

Sarah explained: “As an ethical business with a purpose beyond profit, we mark Black Friday in a different way by turning it green.

“We run a special offer over the whole Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend where we plant a tree for every order through Ecologi – and we also continue to donate underwear to vulnerable women, girls and men through our charity partner, Smalls for All, for every item sold.”

Donating profits, shutting down websites, and planting trees were ways independent retailers boycotted Black Friday in 2021, according to a report in the Guardian.


Some larger retailers to boycott Black Friday

It’s not just small businesses pushing back on the annual sales event. Some larger retailers have previously avoided participating in Black Friday, including M&S and Next. They say this is because of concerns that consumers don’t see value for money.

The idea that some deals aren’t always as good as they seem is backed up by research from Which? in 2021. Their investigation found that 99.5 per cent of the Black Friday discounts advertised in 2021 were the same price or cheaper at other times of the year.

‘Colour Friday’ offers an alternative to Black Friday

Colour Friday is a campaign launched by notonthehighstreet founder Holly Tucker in 2021 to promote independent retailers. Looking to reclaim the Black Friday date, Colour Friday is a call to arms for people to shop local on 24 November 2023, and appreciate the colour and creativity of small businesses all year.

Emily Beaver, independent designer and maker, said: “I am a firm ‘Colour Friday’ small biz supporter. It’s a movement and it’s happening. I don’t ever offer sales or feel pressured.

“I am a designer maker, and I know that my prices are what they need to be to run my small business.”

You could even get your product listed on Holly and Co’s small business marketplace that’s been carefully curated and launched this year.

Female small business owner arranges stock in window display

Monkey Business/stock.adobe.com

What can small businesses do?

Here are a few things independent retailers can do instead of supporting Black Friday:

  • support Colour Friday – everyone pledging their support gets a free kit with ideas on how to get involved with the movement
  • review your pricing strategy – make sure your prices are competitive all year round
  • look at your stock – if you have older products then you might want to offer discounts, but it doesn’t need to be attached to Black Friday
  • expand your products – if most of your profit comes from one best-selling item, then it’s a good idea to see how you can offer more to your customers
  • focus on quality, not just price – consumers are looking for more than just a bargain, and they’ll come to your shop because of the small business owner behind it

Read more ways to support local businesses.

Will the cost of living crisis impact Black Friday this year?

The continuing cost of living crisis could mean that consumers are willing to spend less this Black Friday – or that there are fewer deals to be had.

Research with more than 1,000 small business owners earlier this year revealed 62 per cent plan to increase their prices. The liklihood that these businesses will be able to offer discounts when many are struggling to stay afloat is slim.

However, a report from Wunderman Thompson estimates that Black Friday spending will go up this year. Their research with over 2,000 consumers in the UK found that the average shopper will spend £184.55 – that’s up from £171.66 in 2022.

The marketing research firm also found that 54 per cent of shoppers in the UK are planning to use Black Friday to shop early for Christmas presents this year.

That said, independent businesses are still faced with the challenge of keeping costs attractive as their own business running costs soar.

Tracey, owner of small furniture shop, Reloved, said: “The cost of living does also have a part to play in whether I participate in Black Friday sales.

“As a small business we need to keep the prices reasonable all year round so that it keeps people returning to us. We don’t have the luxury of overcharging and still getting the customers to return like the retail giants do.”

Environmental concerns impacting consumer decisions

Consumers are increasingly looking for businesses that are more sustainable or use ethically-sourced products.

The same report from Wunderman Thompson found 30 per cent of Black Friday shoppers say they’ll spend less due to concerns for the environment.

And that’s one way small businesses can stand out. For example, we’ve interviewed a range of businesses, from second-hand dress shops to alterations services, to understand the sustainable fashion trend.

How do you feel about Black Friday? Let us know in the comments.

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Photograph: Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com

Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.

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