The Black Friday Guide for the Responsible Company

Looking for an alternative? Explore the sharing economy

For B2C companies that consider themselves responsible companies, Black Friday is the ultimate test. On one hand, they know this is a great opportunity to generate a lot of sales they really don’t want to miss. Yet on the other, this is also an example of the wasteful economy that cares only about the bottom line they think it’s time to abandon.

So what does a responsible company need to do on Black Friday? Where do you draw the line? Patagonia gave us a good example last year of how to balance business discipline with a commitment to responsibility, but 99 percent of the companies still won’t dare to publish their own version of Don’t Buy This Jacket ad. Nevertheless, there is plenty that companies can do on Black Friday to prove they’re responsible.

This is actually a great opportunity for companies to show how responsible they are and differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack. How they do it? Here are 10 ways to start:

1. Be more like Henry Ford. The first issue is, of course, the early opening of the stores on Black Friday. You can join everyone else, adopting the former CEO of Best Buy, Brian Dunn’s approach that opening early is “not irresponsible, it’s responding to what the market wants. Best Buy’s competitors do it, people want it, and it’s a part of modern culture that a lot of people look forward to.” Yet, then you basically accept an argument (competitors do it, customers want it) that can easily justify any harm business is doing.

Or, on the other hand, you can be more like Henry Ford, who famously said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said fast horses,” and exercise leadership. Remember that smart companies shape the modern culture, they don’t follow it. In other words: Don’t open your business early and let everyone know why you chose not to do it.

2. Promote sustainable products. If you sell green products, this is the day to offer those door buster deals, or any other promotion you find suitable. This way, you highlight the fact that you actually sell green products and help customers to go green by making these items more affordable, at least for one day.

3. Show off your sustainability. Black Friday can be an excellent opportunity not just to sell more stuff, but also to promote your sustainability efforts. No matter how hard you try to promote these efforts every other day of the year, don’t be surprised to find that many of your customers still have no idea about them. So take advantage of this day to make your consumers aware of who you are and what you care about.

How do you do it? Give every customer a small booklet with a short summary of your latest sustainability report, have an online contest between Black Friday shoppers who will have to guess, for example, how much carbon you saved last year, or hang signs in the store with fun facts about your sustainability efforts (“Did you know that 50 percent of our energy comes from clean energy?”).

4. Get your customers to shwop. Shwopping seems to work very well for Marks & Spencer, so why not have your own version of shwopping just for one day? Ask your customers to bring back one item they don’t use anymore to the store for either recycling or reuse through donation (M&S only accepts clothing, but you can do it with any group of items you can handle).

Shwopping, as M&S explains, is “about challenging and changing the way we all shop. We’re not asking you to stop buying clothes, rather aiming to create a ‘buy one, give one’ culture, where reusing, recycling or reselling old clothes becomes the norm.” There is no better time to share such a message with your customers than Black Friday.

5. Encourage your customers to use the sharing economy. Encourage customers to carpool, use car sharing services, or even rent a bike where it makes sense to get to the store. And how about an Airbnb voucher or a free copy of Share or Die for customers who buy above a certain amount?

6. Give double discounts for using reusable shopping bags. Believe me, your customers are not really impressed with a 5-cent discount for every shopping bag they reuse. How about making Black Friday the one day when using a reusable shopping bag actually counts? Instead of a $20 discount on a pair of jeans, make it a $10 discount or a $20 discount if you bring your own bag. I promise you no customer will forget his or her bag this time.

7. Use your social media channels to engage people. Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels will be busy this week as people look for information on discounts and special deals. Use this opportunity to engage people in conversation about sustainability. It’s a good way not only to share what you do, but also to listen to customers and other stakeholders and learn what they care about and what makes a difference for them.

8. Incentivize your customers to buy online. It is better (most of the time) for the environment and also for your business since it means the store will be less crowded. Just give an extra 10 percent discount for online shoppers, make sure your website won’t crash and you’re done!

9. Take back packaging. Black Friday is definitely going to create a lot of waste, including packaging that can be recycled or even reused. Responsible companies can help reduce wasteful packaging by asking customers to bring back the packages of the products they bought the next time they visit the store in return for a $5 coupon.

10. Match donations. If you have a favorite charity you partner with, let Black Friday shoppers know about it and offer to match any donation they will make that day to this cause.

[Image credit: laurieofindy, Flickr Creative Commons]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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