Recently our 20-year-old dishwasher gave up the ghost. To be honest, I quite like hand-washing dishes and we spent the first decade or so of married life without a dishwasher. As I started travelling internationally for work, however, and had frequent times away from home, my wife decided that she was happy with my frequent absences but only on the proviso that we bought a dishwasher. We did so and marital bliss continued.

The recent demise of our dishwasher, however, had me in panic as the thought of having to embark upon a retail mission had me in a cold sweat. I hate shopping – it takes time, leaves people with a slightly queasy feeling and reminds one of all that is bad about modern consumer society.

I was thinking about this the other day as my email inbox started struggling under the weight of Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers. It seems every business on earth is taking advantage of this bizarre modern invention to shore up their revenue line. And the offers are wild, with companies offering huge discounts to try and entice people to buy stuff that they often have no need for.

These companies are truly leveraging the addictive effect that quick-fire consumption seems to have. That short-duration high that is created when someone clicks “buy now” on a discounted item. Of course, that duration is incredibly short and, long before the item shows up, the novelty and dopamine hit created by the purchase has been lost. Replaced by an empty feeling and, often, a need to click “buy now” again to continue the high.

Now I understand that I’m potentially an outlier and some people really enjoy buying crap they don’t need, will never use and likely creates a huge social and environmental cost to the planet.

But maybe I’m not such an outlier.

For a few years now my business, Cactus Outdoor, has railed against this, the worst excesses of consumerism, by actively going against the Black Friday norm. While our competitors happily jump upon the bandwagon we steadfastly stand in opposition to the event. It’s probably not a smart business move, since consumers do seem to be having their brains rewired to respond to these sales initiatives, but it’s the right thing to do when one thinks about the broader people and planet aspects.

The team were thinking about this anti-Black Friday stance and wondering what the extension of it would be. What is the thing that really doubles down on the “don’t buy stuff you don’t need” idea? For us it’s all about increasing the lifespan of our already legendary products. In yet another initiative that the accountants will hate, they decided to offer free repairs for the entire duration of Black Friday weekend.

While we’ve always been keen on the idea of people repairing their gear and getting another decade or two out of it, this has generally been done for a fee. What better way to fundamentally rail against the horrid consumerism of Black Friday than to provide people with an alternative to throwing out a slightly worn backpack or piece of clothing?

It got me thinking about what other initiatives different companies could set up to counter consumerism. My buddy Liv has an artisanal Sauekraut brand, Wild Child Ferments, and she offers punters a discount when they bring back one of her jars. Imagine craft breweries doing the same.

Maybe I’m naive and as a society, it’s too late. Maybe we’ve already been programmed to buy without thought and no longer care about craftspersonship and longevity. But I truly hope not. I hope there are enough people out there who actually care and would rather spend time and energy using a product than simply get a quick hit by replacing it. Time will tell.

I’m certainly in that camp and am happy to advise that my angst about having to buy a new dishwasher was unfounded. My brother-in-law had a dishwasher he was replacing as part of a kitchen refurbishment so we inherited the old one. Crisis averted and no need for me to enter a big box retailer. Phew!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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