Black Friday: Consumers can act to reduce supply chain issues

Friday, 26th November 2021

Dr Amna Khan explains how we can avoid over-consumption and be more sustainable this Black Friday

Black Friday has grown in importance in the UK’s retail calendar over the past decade. According to Statista, in 2020, consumers spent £7.5 billion in the UK over the course of the Black Friday weekend.

A study also indicated that it is the single most popular shopping day within the UK, with 77 per cent of respondents participating in black Friday shopping.

Every year the “Black Friday discounts” seem to start earlier and last that bit longer. Last year, the event moved from being a hybrid of instore and online shopping, to predominantly online, as businesses were forced to close due to national COVID-19 restrictions.

The temporary change increased demand on online shopping during a peak trading period, which revealed issues with the supply-chain, and it struggled to cope.

Supply chain crisis

As retailers opened without restrictions, one would have expected pre-pandemic shopping norms to return. However, retailing is haunted by the severe disruptions as result of the pandemic and post-Brexit era.

What we are witnessing now is more than just a supply-chain strain or a slight disruption, the supply-chain is in crisis. Every sector of retailing, whether it be food and drink, clothing or toys, are all affected.

Bohoo, Next, lceland and The Entertainer are amongst many retailers voicing their concerns of disruption as we head closer to this peak shopping period.

Global supply chains issues, local restrictions on manufacturing in China and a shortage of HGV drivers and labour within the supply chain have been long-standing issues, which were merely exacerbated by the pandemic.  The vulnerability around our supply chains have been exposed and frankly it cannot be fixed with short-term solutions.

Retailers have stocked up as they anticipate pent up demand, but will that be enough for the lean just-in-time supply chain that is struggling to cope with day-to-day demand?

Pent up demand

Over the past decade, Black Friday has become a highly anticipated event and is a staple in the consumers’ retail shopping calendar as they prepare for the Christmas festivities.

Black Friday is anticipated to have the greatest footfall in the Christmas trading period, with 42 per cent of consumers using it as the main time to purchase Christmas gifts.

As consumers yearn to get back to a normal Christmas after 18 months of restrictions and time away from the family, this year, more than 70 per cent of consumers are expecting to spend the same amount or more money on Black Friday compared to 2020.

To overcome the supply chain issues, there are fundamental changes that consumers can make to ease the pressure on retail supply chains in the short-term. Research suggests that 91 per cent of consumers will modify their buying-behaviour due to recent heightened awareness and concerns around supply chain issues. However, 49 per cent of these consumers suggest they will bulk buy, which will only add to with the supply chain problems.

The anticipation of delays in deliveries will also mean consumers are more likely to shop earlier during the trading period. Buying earlier will flatten the demand curve temporarily, but essentially, there needs to be a shift in consumer purchasing habits. Consumer demands need to slow-down, not for a few months, but permanently.

Rethinking the consumption process, while putting sustainability within the decision-making process, is not just essential to resolve the supply-chain crisis, but fundamental to reducing the overall impact on communities and the planet.

Consumers could act in the following ways to ease the pressure on supply-chain, which would also support the bounce back out post-pandemic:

  1. Buy British brands

One possible way to reduce the strain on the supply chain is to shorten it and bring it closer to home. In 2020, 777,000 new business start-ups were created, serving consumers primarily from online or mail order.  Buying from brands closer to home is not only more sustainable but also supports local entrepreneurship.

Products made by independent makers are often on small runs, created with seasonal materials, or material that they can source easily and locally, thus creating variety and unique products that can serve well as Christmas presents.

  1. Anti-consumption Black Friday events

Over the years there has been a movement towards anti-consumption on Black Friday. Some organisations have identified alternative ways in which to modify the over-consumption associated with Black Friday.

For example, Deciem, a Canadian retailer, has campaigned for ‘shop slow’ sales over the whole month, which provides consumers with the opportunity to be more considered about their purchases and reduces the urgency associated with a one-day sale. They have called their campaign ‘Slowvember’, and in previous years has shut down its shops and online websites. This year, stores will remain open but customers will not be able to buy anything.

  1. Just rent it

Shopping for clothes is an important part of the Christmas celebrations, however some Christmas outfits are only worn during the Christmas period. Figures suggest that Brits throw away £140m worth of wearable clothes each year. Instead, outfits that may only be worn on special occasions, such as Christmas, can be rented.

There are opportunities for consumers to engage in a growing rental market, which offers opportunities to rent designer clothes, such as from, or use a rental peer-to-peer network such as These platforms make more use out of the same product and avoid unnecessary wastage.

If consumers really want to buy a product, there are several options to buy second-hand from growing platforms such as Depop, offering a second life to clothes and increasing their lifespan. This shift to conscious consumption can contribute to sustainable consumption but ease significant pressure of supply-chains and ultimately landfills.

  1. Buy early avoid disappointment

Retailers such as Gymshark started their Black Friday event on November 18 to catch the demand early. Others such as Adidas are participating in longer events that last for a substantial part of the month rather than being about Black Friday.

Given the supply chain issues, it is anticipated that deliveries will be delayed, therefore if consumers have a list of “must have items”, they should buy earlier and help flatten the curve. Through buying earlier, consumers can take advantage of heavily discounted merchandise and will take the pressure off bottle necks closer to Christmas. Consumers can avoid the possibilities on missing out on wanted gifts too. Ultimately, consumers also need to lower expectations and buy what they need, rather than just buying everything they want.