Nfld. & Labrador

Do you really need it? Talking Black Friday deals, debt and consumerism

Deal-seekers lined up outside stores to avail of Black Friday deals, but a couple of young climate activists are encouraging people to be more thoughtful about what they purchase, and why.

And if you do seek deals, try local, say small business owners

From left, Erin Lee, conservation scientist Brett Favaro, and Alice Ferguson-O'Brien all hope consumers will take a closer look at the economic impact of big spending on Black Friday, but add it points to a larger systemic, societal issue around consumerism. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Deal-seekers lined up outside stores to avail of Black Friday deals, but a couple of young climate activists are encouraging people to be more thoughtful about what they purchase, and why.

And some business owners are hoping people will consider buying local, too.

"Black Friday for me has always been something I took part in, I got excited for," said Erin Lee, one of the organizers of a #FridaysforFuture climate march in St. John's that was rescheduled due to weather.

"But now since I've been educating myself and reading up on things, consumerism is one of the biggest climate change contributors."

Lee said a lot of modern products are made in factories, shipped from the other side of the globe, and are major contributor to emissions.

"I think people really need to take a step back and look at the science of what these industries are doing," Lee said.

Her fellow march planner, Alice Ferguson-O'Brien, echoed her sentiments.

"I won't be going shopping today, and I'm not saying that no one should go shopping, because I understand why people want to go shopping," Fergus-O'Brien said.

It's become a thing that everyone has to follow along with the big companies, and as more American companies come into Canada.- Richard Thomson

But, she said, it's not about blaming the consumers for trying to avail of the best deals possible.

"It's a societal issue, so I don't think we can blame consumers. I think it's because we are in a society now where we're used to getting everything we want, like with ordering online and just the amount of clothes we have at the Avalon Mall and all around St. John's — and the world," she said.

"I think it is our responsibility, both the industry and the consumers, to transition to a world where we are wearing the same clothes for longer, maybe at the expense of fast fashion … and buying more sustainable, eco-friendly clothes."

Self-imposed buying pressures

It's not just about more socially conscious consuming, either; one bank manager in Labrador said people should be wary of putting themselves in debt just for the sake of Christmas deals.

Melaine Comeau, who manages Scotiabank in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, said it's common around this time of year for people to stretch their finances well beyond their means.

Planning ahead of time can save you from that, she said.

"One of the most important things when it comes to keeping out of debt or assuring that you're not putting yourself into a situation that nobody really wants to be in is, having a financial plan," Comeau said.

"If you have a financial plan, you deviate from the plan from time to time depending on what happens — you can never plan everything — but having a financial plan and trying to stick to it as much as possible is really how you're gonna be successful."

Melaine Comeau says people you would buy gifts for would likely tell you they'd rather you didn't put yourself into debt to get them something. (Shutterstock)

Plus, she said, a lot of the pressure is either societal or self-imposed.

"Unfortunately, a lot of us do find ourselves buying that extra thing because you feel like you should have it. I would think if you asked who you were buying the gifts for, they would probably say, 'No no no, you don't have to get that,'" she said.

"But we feel it ourselves, so I think we generally put pressure on ourselves. If you asked them I'm sure they would probably say, 'No, I would rather you not put yourself in debt. Make something for me.'"

Buy local

If people do want to go all-out for Black Friday, some local business owners hope shoppers consider forgoing the big box store deals and spend their money at a small business instead.

Richard Thomson, with Altronics in Corner Brook, said he's noticed in the 20 years he's been there that it's only fairly recently that Black Friday has become an expectation among local shoppers.

"It's become a thing that everyone has to follow along with the big companies, and as more American companies come into Canada, they bring it with them," Thomson said.

Shoppers reach for television sets as they compete to purchase retail items on Black Friday at a store in Sao Paulo on Thursday. (Rahel Patrasso/Reuters)

"We have to follow along if we want to remain competitive."

Thomson said there are some misconceptions about buying local — mainly, that it's way pricier to buy local than at a major retailer.

"People have the assumption that we are gonna be higher priced than the big box stores, and that's not the truth at all," he said.

"We can and are competitive, we have the same pricing — we have to have the same pricing because if we don't have it we won't sell."

That's a sentiment echoed by Kylie Cook, who has run Coast Clothing in Stephenville for the last six years.

Between the Black Friday shopping phenomenon that has spread to Canada, and the influx of online shopping, Cook said she's had to find a way to entice shoppers to pick up something out of her collection, versus waiting for it to ship from an online retailer.

"It's always such a learning experience when you're trying to compete with big box stores, online shopping, so it just took me some time to get my head around what I needed to do, what I could afford to do as a business — as a small business," she said.

"The margins are obviously not as low as big box stores have so the discounts are not quite as deep as theirs can be."

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