If there was anyone left pre 2020 that wasn’t already a confident and regular online shopper, it’s safe to say they’ve been converted now. Between lockdowns, store closures and reluctance to return to bricks and mortar stores, there’s a lot riding on these last two months for retail.

Enter, Black Friday. Always big, this year can we expect it to be bigger than ever? Well surprisingly, maybe not. There is an element of sales fatigue, after all this has been the year of the inventory crisis for brands. But more so than that, businesses have figured out that to not use the day (well, week) to brand build and tell their story, is a huge missed opportunity.

While most brands will of course offer a discount in order to remain competitive, most will be a quiet 20% code to use across the week. Nothing loud, just a gesture to make sure they’re not left behind.

But the really clever brands? They’re the ones that have seen Black Friday/Cyber Monday as a chance to add value to their customers’ lives, in an authentic way that only they can. We’ve rounded up the winners, past and present…

 

The Brands That Opt Out

American outdoor and adventuring brand REI is a living, breathing manifestation of its purpose. Since 2015, it has decided to entirely remove itself from the “holiday”. Instead, it pays its over 12,000 staff to not come to work on Black Friday, and spend the day doing what they love best – enjoying the great outdoors.  Will it affect its overall revenue for the year? Unlikely. Will it turn REI fans into lifelong loyalists? Absolutely.

Last year disruptive skincare brand Deciem decided to do something similar. Keen to remind customers to shop slowly and mindfully instead, it closed its stores and website on Black Friday. Its customers didn’t miss out on savings – they put their products on sale for the entire month of November. But by shutting down on this day, they made their feelings known on the mania of hyper-consumerism surrounding the day.

 

The Brands That Give Back

Patagonia has always led the charge when it comes to shopping less, but shopping smarter. An outdoors and lifestyle brand that acknowledges that its principled customers have values that matter more to them than nabbing a great deal. In 2016, Patagonia began to change how they did Black Friday. This was the first year they pledged to donate all of their Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups. The result? They had forecasted $2 million in sales – but in fact took in $10 million. It worked. The campaign has become bigger and better each year since. Last year from Black Friday until December 31st Patagonia Action Works matched every donation its customers made to environment activism. Donating over $20,000,000 by the halfway point.  This year, as well as continuing this effort, Patagonia closed all of its US shops to allow its employees a paid day off to vote in the Presidential election.

British beauty brand Pai Skincare has ramped up its charity mechanic for Black Friday 2020 too. In previous years it has donated £1/€1/$1 from every product sold to UK-based charities such as Girl vs Cancer. Now, in order to represent its skincare fans more fully, it has committed to long-term charity partnerships here in the UK (Black Minds Matter UK) and in the US (The Loveland Foundation), both of which will put this year’s donations towards funding therapy for Black women, girls and families.

 

The Brands That Stand Out

Who could forget the Cards Against Humanity campaign of 2018? Like a confronting work of modern art, the cheeky games brand continued its winning streak of Black Friday stunts with a super-tacky, entirely manic microsite 99PercentOffSale.com selling random unrelated items for well, 99% off. There was red ticker tape that included gems like “Death is the ultimate savings”  and “Fuck you Jess Bezos”. Think they’re trying to tell us something here?

According to community director Jenn Bane – who describes the Black Friday as “silly and gross” – the results were staggering. “We received thousands of fan emails every hour,” she told PR Week. Did they sell any Cards Against Humanity? Beside the point entirely.

This year, mobile network GiffGaff partnered up with LadBible to deliver its own disruptive moment. The Check Your Drawers campaign – actively encouraging customers to trade in or sell their own phones rather than parting with their cash for new ones – reads the room perfectly. Yes, many of us were hit hard financially this year. But it is also 2020 and we are hopefully, finally tuned into the environmental and landfill impact of endless upgrades and need for newness. LabBible-approved, now GiffGaff’s Gen Z and Millennial community can feel empowered to do tech shopping a little differently this year.