Hot Take of the Issue: The Pitfalls of Holiday Shopping

By Lidia Rodriguez and Ashley Xu

For many, the holiday season begins on the last Thursday of November, with the coming together of friends and families around the country in celebration of Thanksgiving. Yet Black Friday, the coveted consumer binge, has grown to become almost as prominent as this historic holiday. Black Friday has become an international event, with all kinds of stores boasting huge annual sales and encouraging a frenzy of excited shoppers to flood malls and online shops alike. While we agree that scrolling through Lululemon and Aritzia on Black Friday can be a fun pastime, we believe that it’s more important for people to acknowledge the impending harms of excessive spending before pressing “Checkout.”

Black Friday, along with its close relative Cyber Monday, promotes irresponsible and unsustainable shopping. With flashy online advertisements like Urban Outfitters’ “SUPER CYBRRRR DEAL” or Sephora’s “Beauty deals so good, it’s unbelievable!” it’s easy for shoppers to impulsively load their carts. Forbes reports that this year, consumers around the world spent a record of $9.12 billion while shopping online. On Thanksgiving Day itself, American shoppers spent $5.29 billion online, which contributes to an increase of 2.9% each year. Moreover, according to Adobe, online sales the day after Thanksgiving showed a 2.3% increase this year. For retailers, these numbers are promising while heading into the upcoming weeks of holiday shopping, however, it is anything but beneficial to the environment. 

Studies have shown that just as it is inevitable for some food to go to waste after Thanksgiving dinner, up to 80% of purchased items, and anything delivered in plastic, will end up in a landfill. Furthermore, as there has been a major increase in online shopping this year in particular, more deliveries will have to be made, thus increasing Black Friday’s carbon footprint. According to MarketWatch, Black Friday is expected to produce 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from product deliveries alone. Finally, Anissa Patel ‘23, a head of COW, adds that “[Black Friday] is really bad for the environment because of all the packaging, and even people who are normally environment-friendly don’t really care.”

But not only does Black Friday wreak damage upon the environment, but it contributes to a toxic consumer culture of being hyper-focused on acquiring material goods. When large retailers advertise unmissable once-a-year sales, their goal is to attract the largest customer base possible. People are motivated by a fear of missing out on the money that they are supposedly saving, yet inadvertently spend more on items that they do not need. “I think it definitely depends person to person, but I can see how it’s really easy to fall into consumerism especially with Black Friday sales,” Alaina Cai ‘23 attests. “You almost feel obligated to buy more things only for the reason that they’re on sale and not because you were looking for that item specifically.” 

While it is tempting and convenient to buy items online instead of going to your local store, it is becoming increasingly important to practice responsible shopping. We recommend making a list of needed items before setting out for stores to avoid blindly splurging on unnecessary goods, as well as avoiding notoriously unethical fast fashion brands such as Shein, H&M, or Zara. Instead, perhaps shoppers can support smaller, local stores or even purchase second hand items to reduce environmental harms while maintaining the thrill that comes along with holiday shopping.