Beyond Black Friday: Sustainable Consumerism and the Mattress Industry

Nick Oettinger, Circular Economist and CEO of The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group)

Black Friday is an important date in almost every retailer’s calendar, providing many shoppers with an opportunity to buy gifts ahead of the festive season. According to Google, the daily volume for shopping-related searches containing “deals” grew by over 2,300% last year during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday compared with September, showcasing that the popularity of the event is showing no signs of slowing down.

But with consumers scrambling to spend on these unmissable deals and buy into media hype around these dates, Black Friday has come under criticism for promoting excessive consumerism, with the repercussions of impulse buying during sales damaging the environment, and the economy.

The question is: how can both retailers and consumers pivot towards a more sustainable approach to shopping?

Black Friday and the rise of Green Friday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday initially rose in popularity in the United States, taking place just after Thanksgiving, as retailers took the opportunity to drive profits in the lead up to Christmas. 

With the mass consumerism comes huge environmental cost, as many products end up in landfill (such as those replaced with items purchased on Black Friday). Because of the environmental cost, some people are exploring a greener alternative – Green Friday. For the past few years, environmental activists have been promoting Green Friday, and it’s being picked up by businesses and social media – whether that’s promoting sustainable shopping choices such as second-hand or refurbished goods, or not participating in the event altogether.

The environmental cost of excessive consumption

Almost 60 million people shop online in the UK, but most shoppers buy more than they intend to keep. Known as “wardrobing”, consumers often order multiple colours and sizes, knowing there’s a convenient and “free” way to return the rest. The returns process plays a huge role in consumers’ shopping habits, with 66% of people in the UK considering the policy before buying online, and abandoning orders when the policy isn’t obvious, or overly complicated.

The same can be said in the mattress industry. Research reveals it can take 30 to 90 days to adjust to a new mattress, but many retailers now offer a comfort night guarantee – which range between 40 and 200 nights. People spend approximately one third of their time in bed, so it is only natural to feel the difference when swapping to a new mattress after 8-12 years of sleeping on a familiar surface. 

But consumers aren’t giving it long enough to bed in and are returning mattresses at an alarming rate. In a trend coined the ‘Goldilocks’ effect, consumers are returning mattresses under the comfort night guarantee because they are either too hard, too soft, or just “not quite right.” In fact, 600,000 mattresses are returned to retailers under the comfort night guarantee each year, costing retailers a huge £60 million in the return process, a lot of which can be attributed to the likes of Black Friday and January sales as people look to take advantage of the deals knowing they can easily return their purchase at no/ little cost. 

Challenges with bulky returns: the mattress dilemma

It’s very different with bulkier items such as furniture, as they require additional packaging and collections. Mattresses are a major component of the waste problem: as a bulky item, they are perceived as difficult and expensive to dispose of for both businesses and consumers. With comfort night guarantee returns, customers simply contact the retailer and organise a collection (often for free). 

Tackling this issue for both the environment and retailer revenues, The Furniture Recycling Group has devised a truly innovative technology that rejuvenates returned mattresses, refurbishing them ready for resale. This new solution cleans returned mattresses to NHS grade standards, sending them back to retailers for them to be redistributed into the consumer market to generate sales and recoup losses for retailers. This gives consumers the opportunity to purchase pre-loved, premium mattresses at an affordable price.

Alternatively, for any products that fail compliance checks, or have passed the comfort night guarantee, TFR Group offers cost-effective and convenient solutions via their recycling program. 

A call for sustainable practices in retail

Retailers must promote informed decision-making, especially during sales periods, to prevent excessive returns and waste.

Companies have an important role to play in educating consumers about the environmental impact of their purchases and encouraging them to consider the longevity and life cycle of a product before buying. Retailers can lead by example by offering more sustainable products and provide transparent information about product sourcing and sustainability.

One example is how some retailers have begun to shift their focus during Black Friday by promoting durable goods, offering repair services, or incentivising trade-ins for old products, turning the tide from disposability to longevity. Companies such as Patagonia have taken bold steps by closing stores on Black Friday, encouraging outdoor activity, and promoting sustainability. Such incentives not only create brand loyalty but also signal a shift towards conscious consumerism.

Furthermore, the mattress industry specifically can encourage the development and sale of designs that allow individual components to be replaced, extending the life of a product and reducing the need to return the entire item. TFR Group provides rejuvenation services for mattresses returned under the comfort night guarantee, preventing this bulky waste from ending up in landfill.

It’s important to redefine Black Friday and sales events to align with sustainable goals. We need to move beyond the short-term excitement of sales to foster a more sustainable, circular economy where products are made to last, and consumption is thoughtful and deliberate.

This Black Friday, let us challenge both retailers and consumers to consider the full impact of their purchases. Businesses must embrace their responsibility to the planet by adopting eco-friendly practices and pushing for change. Consumers must focus on purchasing products for longevity and a more sustainable future. Together, we can redefine retail that transcends the allure of discounts.

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