Cyber Monday and its predecessor Black Friday are fixtures of the holiday season—we can thank years of marketing campaigns for that. On the surface, these prime-time shopping days seem to help consumers. The idea is simple enough: deep discounts on popular and otherwise expensive items enable premium savings. That’s ideal ahead of the holidays, right?
If we pull back the ad-adorned curtain, these marketing “holidays” fuel overspending, overconsumption, and even climate issues. And with supply chain disruptions delaying the production and shipping of goods, you may not even get your stuff in time—making 2021 the perfect year to opt out of the whole thing.
Need a good reason to log off this Cyber Monday? We’ll give you four!
According to a recent survey, 45% of respondents chose budget and finances as their top stressors leading up to the 2021 holiday season. And that makes sense. During the holidays, there’s more pressure to spend money on things above and beyond the usual expenses—like gifts and travel. But when we scroll through social media or watch TV, retailers aren’t advertising solutions, like creating a holiday budget. Instead, they’re selling “deals.”
That doesn’t make the holidays a season of savings. Unless you receive something for free with no strings attached, you often have to spend money to save money.
For example, if a retailer offers a brand new $2,000 TV at a temporary 50% discount, that’s considered a good deal. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that, unless you need a TV (and budgeted for a higher quality item), you still have to fork over $1,000 to buy it. That’s $1,000 more than the unadvertised alternative: not buying a brand new TV.
The temptation to overspend was bad enough when it was just Black Friday, but with the advent of Cyber Monday, you no longer need to leave your house at dawn and fight an angry mob to get your hands on that TV—you can find screaming deals on things you don’t need from the comfort of your couch.
And since most retailers have a website, the lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday have increasingly blurred, with online sales beginning even before Black Friday and lasting well after. (Fun fact: In 2020 there was more online shopping activity on Black Friday, but more money spent on Cyber Monday).
While there are many ways marketers inspire purchases, Cyber Monday plays on three very effective persuasion tactics. And in the heat of the online shopping moment, combatting clever marketing is tricky. Knowing what these techniques look like can help you identify if you really need that item you’re buying, or if you’re just being enticed by a psychological ploy.
Marketers use “scarcity” to give consumers the idea that goods and deals are in short supply, which pressures them into buying quickly. This could be through limited-time offers (hello, Cyber Monday “lightning deals”) or limited supply (e.g., “offer only good while supplies last”). Cyber Monday and Black Friday are the definition of scarcity in action, since the deals are generally limited to those days.
We value other people’s opinions, especially when it comes to making purchase decisions. Many businesses use social proof—like online reviews and testimonials—to validate the functionality and desirability of their products and services. Ever notice how all the food bloggers are suddenly linking to Instant Pot deals right before Cyber Monday? Marketers are typically paying for that promotion, so take it with a grain of salt.
If someone does something generous for us, we’re more likely to return the favor. That’s the main idea behind the reciprocity principle—a tried and true marketing hack to encourage greater spending. When retailers offer you a complimentary gift card or discount for shopping with them this holiday season, you may feel obligated to use it before you lose it, and potentially even spend a bit more on yourself.
Another thing that Cyber Monday and Black Friday have in common? They’re both bad for the environment. If you need another reason to ditch these faux-lidays, you can add “saving the planet” to your list.
It’s tough to pin down the exact carbon footprint of the Thanksgiving weekend sale season, but one study out of Great Britain tried to do just that. The Dirty Delivery Report projected that in 2020, online holiday shopping in the UK alone would generate 429,000 tons of carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of 435 round-trip flights between New York and London.
And if you think that going to a store on Black Friday is better than ordering online on Cyber Monday (after all, a car uses less fuel than a plane), you’re actually mistaken. A study from MIT found that the carbon footprint of a traditional (i.e., in-store) shopper is actually worse than that of an online shopper. However, an online shopper who chooses expedited shipping is the biggest offender of the three.
The pandemic introduced us to a lot of terms and concepts we wish we didn’t need to know, and “supply chain” is high on that list. Global supply chain constraints have become a daily headline as increased spending clashes with a tight labor market to create a massive supply and demand imbalance.
You don’t need an economics degree to understand the upshot of this quagmire. Basically, inventories are low and shipping is slow. In years past, if you ordered a tablet on Cyber Monday you might get it by Giving Tuesday, but at the very least you were confident it would arrive before the holidays. This year, a shortage in semiconductor chips—the technology that powers our most advanced electronic devices—means you may not see that tablet until 2022.
In light of the problems many retailers and consumers face this Cyber Monday, it’s not a bad time to take an alternative approach to your holiday shopping.
Marketers engrained Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the holiday calendar. However, that doesn’t mean you have to participate. This approach can ease your holiday budget and provide invaluable peace of mind.
You don’t need fancy packaging and a brand label to deliver a cherished gift. Quite the contrary—giving unique presents can be far more personal. For example, if you love to bake, you could substitute home baked goods for expensive material gifts (or even share your go-to recipes!).
It’s natural to associate the holidays with tangible stuff like clothes and electronics. However, physical presents haven’t monopolized the gift-giving industry. You could create personal coupons for services like car washing or closet organizing. In exchange for your time, you keep money in your bank account.
Considering the financial and environmental impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you may want to rethink your typical shopping routine and establish new traditions. Even some retailers have taken steps to limit wasteful holiday spending. In 2015, REI commenced the #optoutside movement, shutting down its stores on Black Friday (physical and online) and encouraging its customers to spend the day outdoors.
Marketing promotions aren’t inherently bad. Deep discounts can make your necessary holiday purchases more cost-effective. However, there’s a difference between “sales” and “saving.” Unless you absolutely need a particular discounted item, you’re not really saving money just because it’s on sale.
With these things in mind, consider logging off on Cyber Monday in 2021. There are plenty of ways to save money this holiday season and even support a healthier environment in the process.
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