Nowadays lots of consumers all around the world consider the Black Friday as an unmissable appointment to go looking for incredible offers while advancing in the purchase of Christmas presents. Introduced in the United States the day after Thanksgiving, this tradition has then spread across Europe, America, Oceania and Asia, becoming a huge earning occasion for in-store and online businesses. However, statistics illustrate how the volume of online purchases has been significantly increasing at the expense of physical sales as well as impacting the environment.
According to Salesforce results, during the Black Friday 2020, online sales reached a total value of $ 270 billion, with an overall increase of 36% from 2019 and a surplus of 22% in the consumers’ participation in the whole week. In just 5 days, online sales represented the 18% of total 2020 online sales.
If we zoom in and look at the United States alone, a perfect example of this trend can be detected. There, in 2020, shoppers managed to spend $9 billion in a single day, exceeding the amounts cumulated in 2019 and 2018, when only $ 7.4 and $ 6.2 billion had been collected respectively. However, these numbers are still below those recorded on the so-called cyber-monday: $ 10.8 billion in 24 hours. Black Friday 2020 was insofar the second largest online spending day in U.S. history, right behind Cyber Monday 2020, reaching for the first time the 100 million online shoppers in a day.
The causes of this behavioural change cannot be identified only in the Covid 19. Already back in 2017, Periscope by McKinsey revealed a clear preference of consumers for shopping online rather than the in-store one, which was clearly expressed by Iitalians during the Black Friday 2019. On the occasion, Amazon recorded an average of 37 commands per second, highlighting the economic potential of Black Friday and ecommerce in general. A similar reality occurred in the United States, where consumers spent $6.3 million per minute online, or, in other terms, $27.50 per person.
Other causes are most likely attributable to the wide range of solutions provided by online services to consumers, who can now choose between home deliveries, collection at the store or curbside pickup. The latter was widely used in 2020, increasing by 52% over the previous year. At the same time, in-store shoppers on Thanksgiving Day dropped by 55% compared to 2019, and those on Black Friday dropped by 37%.
While there are many reasons why shoppers might still choose brick-and-mortar stores for their purchases, e-commerce is set to continue growing. Conforming to the last statistics, in the first quarter of 2021, global e-commerce grew by 58% on an annual basis compared to 17% in the first quarter of 2020.
If some businesses are particularly satisfied by the increasing attention paid to Black Friday and ecommerce, on the other hand this tradition seems to have many negative repercussions on the environment. Surfing on the net consumes a large quantity of electricity. A google search, for example, requires the same amount of energy used by a light bulb on for 17 seconds. Multiplying this consumption by 100 million consumers, the same ones registered in the United States during Cyber Monday 2020, it is easy to imagine the enormous energy expenditure linked to the occasion.
Besides the energy aspect, the increase in online sales during Black Friday has generated a strong impact on the number of deliveries, expanding the amount of CO2 emitted into the air. According to a new study from Money.co.uk, Black Friday 2021 could have led to 386,000 tonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere – the equivalent impact of more than 215,000 return flights from London to Sydney. More than 15,000 tonnes of carbon may have been produced only by Amazon, which, by the way, was also recognised as the second more environmentally responsible company after Royal Mail.
Deliveries, if within the country, take place mostly by road, contributing to the huge flow of trucks. In the UK, during Black Friday 2017, a number of 72,550 vans travelled to make deliveries. During particularly busy periods a truck may leave one of Amazon’s warehouses every 93 seconds. Despite these datas, Amazon is still considered one of the most committed companies to reducing its CO2 emissions. The company has indeed invested in electric vehicles with 1,800 Mercedes-Benz to be added to its delivery fleet in Europe. In addition, Bezos’ company is also rated as the most committed to walking and cycling deliveries.
Online shopping has highlighted another trend: the increase in returns. As some surveys have revealed, apart from affecting the number of deliveries, this policy increases the amount of waste as well. In fact, these products, once sent back, may no longer be sold again but thrown away. This was revealed by a survey conducted by Marketplace on Amazon Canada returns. On the subject, a representative of a Toronto e-waste recycling revealed they get “tons and tons of Amazon returns,” and that every week their facility breaks apart and shreds at least one tractor-trailer load of Amazon returns, sometimes even up to three to five truckloads. Transport and waste are harmful, so is the packaging. As reported by Fast Company, 165 billion parcels are shipped in the United States every year, which requires cartons and plastics.
In conclusion, if we count that in 2020 in the United States the value of returns was $550 billion and that 1 billion trees are cut down, just to return a pair of jeans, we can understand the real impact that this new trend has on the environment. Alongside this, it has been shown that companies offering free returns increase their sales by 457%.
Facing savings allowed by Black Friday, security provided by free returns and environmental impacts of Black Friday and online sales in general, it is therefore up to the consumer to decide whether to finalise a purchase.
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