November has always been famous for its mass consumerism. With the lead up to Christmas, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s no wonder. Marketing teams go wild, playing into the minds of the consumer. In a pandemic, why should that be any different? Either it’s my new glasses prescription or I’m actually getting older and somewhat wiser, but this shopping habit has opened my eyes to a whole new issue. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always been partial to a good bargain, I am a student after all. However, there comes a point when the sale becomes too much, and at what cost to someone else?
Household names of the online fashion world such as Nasty Gal, Boohoo, and Pretty Little Thing (owned by the Boohoo Group PLC) are notorious for a sale. I don’t think I have ever seen a product on their sites that was ‘full price’. Why should Black Friday be any different? With this in mind, I decided to conduct a little experiment, taking on the knowledge awarded by my secondary school Home Economics lessons. In the early days of the month, I had challenged myself to complete No Buy November (which was an epic fail might I add). When it came to the urge to online shop, I would scroll the sites and ‘add to wish list’ over and over, not actually completing a purchase – It was enough for me (then…). When the Black Friday sale came around, I thought of my lingering wish list and the discount that would surely be. You can imagine my bewilderment when I discovered the 75% off sale had barely made a dent. In the case of some items, the price was in fact higher. A cardigan once claiming to cost €50 now with 75% off – a sure deal, no? I started to wonder if the reference prices ever were such, or was this just one big psychological scam? You can be sure, there was no ‘add to cart’ that night.
According to the Consumer Association of Ireland, ‘’businesses cannot claim that goods have been sold at a higher price and are now on sale for a lower price unless the goods were actually on sale at the higher price for a ‘reasonable period’, which is generally understood to be 28 days in the three months before the price reduction”. The Boohoo Group PLC is registered in Jersey, meaning the fool-proof laws of Ireland don’t apply. When consulting the Advertising Standards Authority Ltd. (trading as ASA) in the UK, I discovered there was no minimum date for reference prices. This means that the online site is fully in the right to toy with reference and sale prices frequently.
What does this mean for the consumer? It means we can’t let our guard down. Online shopping in Ireland was at 51% the past month, overtaking in-person shopping, not surprising due to the Level Five lockdown. This increased shopping habit lets more and more consumers open for exploitation by money hungry companies.
Oh, and the worst part, consumers are not the only ones being exploited by such companies. To add fuel to the fire, Pretty Little Thing launched a 99% sale on their site for Cyber Weekend, with items for sale for less than 30c. Earlier this year, the Boohoo Group PLC were found to be paying staff less than €3.90 per hour and expected the workers to perform in ‘unsanitary’ conditions. A spokesperson for Pretty Little Thing said the 99% sale was because ‘’after a bleak 2020 for most of us, we wanted to offer something competitive and understand people may be spending less in what is usually peak shopping season”. While the thought may be of good will, one cannot but wonder if a company is selling an item so cheaply, how does the price break down? How much does the worker really get for their work?
In line with the scary reality of seasonal sales, how much money was spent on unnecessary items due to them being deemed ‘too good a bargain’? How many new dresses for 15c have been bought during Cyber weekend, only to sit in a wardrobe, tags still on for months on end, until eventually binned and added to the world’s throwaway culture? According to Green is the New Black, the world is producing up to 100 billion new garments a year, 73% of which will end up in landfill or incinerators. The average person buys 60% more clothing and keeps it for
about half as long as they did fifteen years ago. The global apparel and footwear industry accounts for an estimated 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, 17-20% of all industrial water pollution and up to 20% of pesticide use. The sourcing of natural materials also damages fragile ecosystems and threatens biodiversity. Industry ‘greenwashing’ is doing more harm than good.
In the United States in 2018, Black Friday generated $6.2 billion in online sales in the US alone – a growth of 23.6% from the previous year. China’s annual Singles Day generated a record $38 billion in sales, up 25% since the previous year. Yes, the influx of these sales may boost the economy, but what is the true cost? We foot the bill to our planet, send shopping invoices to our rivers, our trees and our icecaps. Increased pressure and destruction of our climate must outweigh the importance of economic growth.
How many more ‘LIMITED TIME ONLY’, ‘75% OFF UNTIL MIDNIGHT’ emails must we receive before we unsubscribe from over consumption?