Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

As I do too often, I posted a scathing comment regarding shopping on Black Friday on my Facebook page. Basically, it said, I don't shop on Black Friday, because there is nothing I would want to buy badly enough to kill someone to get the cheapest price. My comment was in reference to the 2008 death of a Wal-Mart employee who was trampled while trying to open the doors as the throng of shoppers attempted to push their way into the store. It was a tragedy, and not a usual occurence, but at the same time, it spoke volumes to me.

I have, personally, chosen to have no part of it.

Unfortunately, a lot of my friends and family members do enjoy shopping, and like to check out the Black Friday deals. I am not judging. *For me*, shopping on Black Friday would be an unnecessarily uncomfortable ordeal, but I recognize that not all people in this world feel the way I do about things, and that's okay. My opinion about Black Friday was not meant as a character assessment of those who enjoy the excitement of the day.

The fact is that I don't really like to shop, but even if I did, I wouldn't shop on Black Friday, because I hate crowds and I hate standing in lines (not my idea of fun, even if I think I'm getting a good deal).

But more than that, I don't think the deals are really so great.

A couple of years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who worked in retail for years. She was very open (too open, perhaps) about the kinds of things retailers do to attract customers, and to encourage people who are unwitting enough to get caught in their web to spend more money. In grocery stores, for instance, higher priced, "luxury" items are placed at eye level and in eye-catching places in eye-catching displays. The price tags will be bright and visually appealing, and even if it isn't a "sale" item, it will look like a good deal, because we have been programmed to view items placed in certain areas or in certain configurations as "deals."

It's not paranoia to think that we're constantly being manipulated to spend more money. Most companies have done long-term marketing studies on how to motivate people to spend money - and they're getting better at it all of the time. Ever wondered why so many resturants seem to have the same color scheme? It's not a coincidence.

In retail, they place certain items strategically and in eye-catching displays, and most people will pick up the item as an impulse buy. We all do it. All of us. Even those of us with lists will, occasionally, pick up that impulse item.

Impulse items are not deals and are often marked up beyond the normal mark-up, because they are the high profit items. When I worked in the food industry, our high profit item was the drinks. The mark-up for beverages was as much as 80% above the cost of that item. Eighty-percent. Crazy! But we pay it, because we think we're getting a deal.

Make no mistake. On those "shopping holidays", the retailer is going to make its money. After all, it *is* all about making money, and they are not doing us any favors by offering these "great deals." If there wasn't something in it for them, they wouldn't do it. A few items might, actually, be marked down (but never below the cost), but often those items are in "limited quantities" and would be gone before most people are even able to get into the store. One year, for example, a major retailer offered a highly desirable electronics item at a ridiculously low price. The advertisement flyer said (in a very, very tiny font) "limited quantities", but who reads the small print, and who could have imagined how "limited" those quantities would actually be?. Each of the 100-plus stores had FIVE.

As such, the best idea is to understand when the best time to buy things is, and there are certain times of the year when the cost of certain items is significantly lower than at other times. In fact, according to this list, right now is a good time to buy aluminum foil, and according to this list, aluminum foil is a good thing to have around the house.

It's not that I don't like getting a good deal, and it's not that I would deny any other person the joy of finding a bargain. It is that this "shopping holiday" is just one more way for retailers to wrest the few dollars we've managed to keep hold of out of our collective fingers, and if we think they're doing us any favors, we're deluding ourselves. Their goal is to make money, and they'll do nearly anything to achieve that goal - even if it means trickery and deceit - two traits most retailers have in spades.

The wiki-history of Black Friday is both funny and a little sad.

All the more reason I choose not to participate.

And in this season in which thanks should be ever on our lips, I'm thankful that there has never been a Black Friday deal so compelling that I risk my life or that of another to shop on this day.


  1. I totally agree. I went to one after Thanksgiving sale (I don't remember it being called Black Friday until recently). I think it was 1988. Someone snatched something out of my hand, and I decided then that NOTHING was worth going out on Black Friday. You are nicer than me, I DO think anyone who goes out shopping that day is CRAZY! LOL

  2. I read your status message and I didn't perceive it to be judgmental. Then again, I'm sure some of the people on my list considered *my* post about buying American online to be uncalled for.
    I'm sure after they read the news reports of the woman pepper spraying other shoppers they were a little more understanding of your feelings. A good friend of mine mentioned on her Facebook today that her son had a knife pulled on him, and her daughter was roughed up in a store.
    I admit we did go wander the PX, mostly because it was a place we could walk to, and we had something to drop off to an office there - but we waited until well after the initial sales "push" in the morning. As it was, it seemed busy, but no busier than any other lunchtime at the PX - other than the fact that people were packed into the electronics area like sardines. Interestingly (to me), the people we had the most problem with were wives. No way to tell if they themselves are in the service, though the men clearly were that were pushing carts with them; but the pushing, rudeness and general chaos didn't come from the young men trying to get deals on game devices.... it came from the women in the aisles near the clothing - where there weren't any "deals" anyway! *sigh*

  3. When our local Walmart opened for Black Friday, the hot spots in the store were the bins of bargain sheets (about $7 per set) and inexpensive towels. We weren't there, but heard about it from someone else. It was sobering to realize that for a lot of people it wasn't about getting a cheap trinket or gadget, but about finding affordable household items.

    Also, the $50 sewing machines were sold out very quickly.

  4. I've never been into the Friday-after thing, and am not much of a shopper either. But I know people who plan ahead for it with spreadsheets, routes, helpers so they can divide and conquer (or guard the cart), snacks and drinks packed with them, etc. I can't make sense of it, but they look at as if it's a competitive event like running a marathon or something. Whatever. I'll stick with some low-stress home time. And yummy leftovers.

    brenda from arkansas

  5. I totally agree with you. I have not and will not participate in Black Friday or any other shopping "holiday". I agree with your assessment of how retail works (I'm in the advertising industry), but the craziness of the shoppers themselves boggles the mind. Is this the meaning of the holiday season now? Shop 'til you drop (or are pepper sprayed)?

  6. We went shopping two places on Black Friday: Sears Hardware at noon for some good deals on lifetime warranteed tools we needed and Goodwill for some Christmas shopping. I got my grandma a king sized sheet in a color she needed for making quilts for the needy, my sister a gorgeous wool sweater, and myself a few vintage dishes in the pattern I use (yes use, not collect).

    Two of my aunts braved Kohl's and Walmart in the early AM hours. And waited forever in lines for stuff they probably spent too much money on and didn't need. But I can't blame them. Not everyone can be cash poor and frugal-minded like me! ;)