Many retailers dread Black Friday, but few can afford to skip it outright.
But while this year is forecast to be the U.K.’s biggest spend yet, a growing number of brands are choosing to opt out and do something a little more feel-good.
Lush Cosmetics hasn’t once celebrated the holiday in the three years since it has gained notoriety in the U.K. This year it is releasing a charitable bath bomb, named Error 404, to raise funds for AccessNow, a digital rights organization that campaigns against Internet crackdowns by governments worldwide.
“It feels pertinent to disrupt consumers and help raise awareness about a topic that most people don’t think about,” said Lush’s chief digital officer, Jack Constantine. “To have your internet shut down is so rare in western culture, however people across the world are suffering it on a regular basis.”
Lush is a brand known for its activism around animal testing, human rights and environmental issues. However, other brands who aren’t known for their ethical stance are also using the attention around Black Friday for fundraising over discounting.
Clothing brand FatFace is promising to donate £100,000 ($124,000) of its profits from this week across to local charities including hospices and children’s charities. This will apply to sales both online and in-store. Customers can also make a donation to the FatFace Foundation directly via its website.
Others, like Arena Flowers, are giving away a portion of sales over the shopping period to charities in the U.K.
Food chain Pieminister is opening pop-up shops at 10 of its locations in the U.K. as part of “Black Pieday.” From 8:30 a.m. onwards, the company will give away surplus stock from its freezer in exchange for a donation to the housing charity Shelter.
“Black Friday has connotations of spending lots of money on stuff you might not need, so we saw a chance to turn it on its head and do some good,” said a spokeswoman from Pieminister.
Last year the retailer ran the scheme at its restaurant in Bristol, in the south west of England. It sold out all its pies in an hour, raising £2,000 ($2,480) in the process.
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Indeed, anti-Black Friday sentiment has been lurking for a while through grassroots groups like Buy Nothing Day. Last year saw “Civilised Saturday,” an event put on by over 100 booksellers who provided massages, mulled wine and music to shoppers weary from Friday or those choosing to shun it altogether. However, this year has seen bigger retailers get involved.
Simon Peck, managing director of agency Engine U.K., doesn’t think the holiday has become toxic, but says retailers are changing how they think about it. And, of course, they wouldn’t necessarily be doing as a pure act of altruism.
“Our own research is very clear that millennials love to shop but they want the very act of buying to be more meaningful and enjoyable,” he said. “It’s not all about deals and discounts. Retailers like FatFace, Lush and Patagonia are clearly tapping into that.”
Will Rowe, CEO at insights agency Protein, agrees. “77 percent of early adopters believe that big brands have a moral obligation to improve the world,” he said. “This puts greater pressure on brands to move beyond the traditional ethical issues around environmental damage and worker exploitation, to being ethical in all they do.”
But as the holiday evolves, some brands are looking to have their cake and eat it too. Unlike Pieminister, not everyone thinks it’s up to brands to have a moral obligation to promote responsible spending.
Giving Tuesday, a charity drive that raised £35 million ($43.5 million) in 2015, is returning to the U.K. for a third year, led by the Charities Aid Foundation. Retailers including Argos, ASOS, Morrisons and Homebase are signed up this year encouraging staff to donate via payroll and volunteering and also offering consumers the option to donate to charity at checkout.