Green or Black Friday?

The success of Black Friday is beyond question, but the price to be paid is rather heavy. Can initiatives like Green Friday make a difference? How can we, as retailers or promoters, be inspired by them? Here is our analysis of these trends of consum(p)(ac)tion.

For a few years now, the Black Friday phenomenon rages at the end of November. This is a typical American event, just like Halloween, which was introduced here almost overnight by the international giants of e-commerce. The purpose of Black Friday is very clear: offering consumers enormous promotions for one day to encourage hyper consumption in a very short period of time. Black Friday even became a Black Weekend or even a Black Week for many retailers. Sales before the actual sales, with the advantage that they are before the holidays, a period known to be a financially heavy one.

Black Friday’s numbers are staggering

And does it work? Well yes, if we are to believe the numbers:

  • In France, 56 million bank card transactions were recorded on 29th November, 6 million more than in 2018 and 13 million more than in 2017. Black Friday has even beaten the records set earlier during the Christmas rush just before the holidays. In total, almost 6 billion euro was spent in one weekend in France.
  • Belgium is not an exception, with a total of 10,432,103 electronic payments registered in stores and online on Black Friday 2019 alone.
  • In fact, the whole of Europe is succumbing to the Black Friday fever: this year’s significant increase can be seen in all European countries. According to Ingenico, Black Friday’s sales volume has increased with 11% compared to 2018, and the average transaction value is also higher (€ 135 in 2019).


Black Friday’s big problem

So yes, consumption is boosted by Black Friday, and this more and more each year. But who really benefits from this success? From our point of view, the big winner seems to be e-commerce.

As mentioned before, the e-sellers who have brought Black Friday and other days like Cyber Monday to our country are indeed the most important ones. The physical stores participated little by little, and eventually even some small retailers followed, sometimes reluctantly. Especially the latter feel a bit obliged to follow, while regretting that the multiplication of this kind of actions eventually leads to people getting used to permanently receiving discounts. This is bad news for sales in general during the rest of the year, and even for the traditional sales periods.

In a context where physical stores are already struggling to offset the fiscal imbalance with e-commerce, this can cause remorse.

Green Friday: the counter movement

Not only the physical stores are unhappy: as a reaction to the Black Friday madness, a counter movement was quickly set up under the name Green Friday. This year there were several actions:

  • Various environmental movements blocked Amazon’s new warehouse in Brétigny-sur-Orge, while in Germany Amazon’s own employees were on strike to protest against their working conditions.
  • Action groups have organised sit-ins in shopping malls.
  • The shops themselves have also joined the protests. Some closed their websites all day on Black Friday, like Camif. Others, such as the natural cosmetics brand Typology or the Belgian fashion brand Bellerose, did not give any discounts and donated (part of) their profits of that day to NGOs. The outdoor brand Häglofs even doubled its prices for the occasion, which amounts to a boycott.
  • The companies are also, together with the voluntary sector, at the origin of the Green Friday movement that originated in France and has since been taken over elsewhere. In Belgium, for example, 151 social economy enterprises took part in 2019.
  • The political world has also reacted: in France, an amendment has been submitted in Parliament to ban Black Friday altogether, as it would lead to aggressive and misleading commercial practices, while at the same time causing serious damage to the environment. The amendment was adopted by a large majority at the beginning of December 2019.

Black Friday does get quite a bit of criticism. And what’s disturbing is that consumerism is being pushed to the limit at a time when many voices are being raised in favour of more thoughtful, sustainable and local consumption. Some consumers are suspicious of the impulse purchases encouraged by the event and are annoyed by the hype.

What strikes us, is that the movement is no longer just the domain of environmentalists. Even the brands are now joining the movement and are not willing to lower their prices all the time. At the moment, they still need to prove that Black Friday is really profitable for them. The figures seem to confirm the retailers’ fears and indicate that the additional sales generated in this period are actually being compensated by a drop in sales before Christmas and during the sales season.

So, in order to make a profit, some stores would introduce dubious practices to attract customers on Black Friday. In general, we see that large promotions and sales periods are more and more an illusion. For Black Friday, this feeling has clearly been confirmed in France by a study by the consumer observatory UFC-Que Choisir. According to this study, the average discount for Black Friday, despite the announced spectacular promotions, was actually minimal. “To attract customers, retailers rely more on communication and marketing than on real discounts. They would be crazy not to: the reference price legislation is so flexible that they have the ability to play almost at will with the reference prices to reflect the highest possible discounts,” says UFC-Que Choisir. It is this study in particular that was used as an argument for the vote on the famous amendment mentioned above. What better way to make Black Friday’s supporters aware of the facts than with ecological or anti-consumption arguments?

After all, despite Green Friday and the rise of a new generation of consumers, the average citizen still seems willing to pop out his credit card at the slightest promise of a discount. A game that, in our opinion, physical stores can never win against e-commerce. If they want to survive and even revive in the future, they need to offer real added value: concepts rooted in their local environment, a meaningful customer experience, quality retail entertainment, and so on.

We also believe that, even when times change, consumers will always remain ambivalent. They want to continue to consume while they are at the same time increasingly sensitive to ecology and sustainable development. It is therefore up to retail players and promoters to adapt their offer, propose alternatives and make customers aware of sustainable approaches.


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