Black Friday, Fearing for Humanity

Black Friday, the one event of the year where people hailing from the lands of anti-consumerism can rally up and show the world how consumerism has transformed our society for the worse. Except every year, Black Friday is a resounding success for retailers (albeit last year sales were down, so there is hope).  People wake up incredibly early to greedily march into line, in hopes of snatching the last tickle me Elmo, perhaps from the hands of a like minded individual who was 2 seconds faster than you, but you, like a soccer hooligan from the slums of Manchester, your unscrupulous ways allows you to snatch the tickle me Elmo from the clutches of your shopping rival.

Your eyes sting from the unnaturalness of the hour that you forced yourself to get up at.  Slack-jawed employees look onward, more or less forced to work the dreadful event, uncaring of the unsportsmanlike like behavior exhibited by yourself.   But like a cat in the food chain, the sweeping eagle descends upon you, a more experienced and ruthless shopper takes the Tickle me Elmo from the grasp of your hands.  Your victory was ephemeral and short-lived, the predator shopper gets away with a bitchy grin. The predacious shopper blends into the crowd of remorseless shoppers and gets away, your protest drowned out by the roaring crowd of deal-hungry shoppers.

While this is somewhat of an exaggeration, violence and fights, while unfortunately do occur on the altar of consumerism, it isn’t particularly widespread, violence at stores damages the carefully sculpted appearance of retailers.  it is spot on in the assessment that Black Friday brings out some of our worse qualities of humanity.

Black Friday is considered the start of the Christmas season, when the suits can declare their retail ascent, assault the beaches of wallets, decree to the shareholders that returns are coming. Here in the kingdom of the North, Canada, Black Friday has historically been an event we hear about on the news from our southern brethren.

Enterprising consumers, tiresome of hearing about deals, unable to find them in their home and native land, crossed into the hinterlands of the United States, braving the currency exchange rate, white-knuckling it while a CBSA officer decides whether or not you ought to pay duties on your foreign goods. At the end of the day, when the costs are totaled, it probably doesn’t make financial sense to load up the sedan and watch the dial on the compass point south.  Retailers have caught on and have started ramping up events in Canada.

But there are some real issues with Black Friday.  Mostly Black Friday is not really about the one-year event where you can snatch up the best deals.  While the illusion of consumer supremacy has been carefully manicured by retailers to proliferate the image of deep discounts, big ticket items selling for cheap prices are often inferior quality.  Items specifically made to allure the wandering consumer.  Door crasher items are limited quantity, they are the bait on the trap to get people in the door.

Here is the deep cutting truth, so painful it is, the illusion of consumer bliss and ecstasy that takes place in an orgy of tired, excited, people attempting to snatch away the best deals, but Black Friday is not the father of the cheapest goods.  Black Friday is not the Santa that will grant you the gift of “cheap”. Instead, like the convening genie who twists around your wishes, the “cheap ticket” items so prominently featured at retailers on Black Friday, the beauty pageants of the stores are not just cheap in price, but often are derivative models which are inferior in quality.  Not to mention that the ‘list price’, the comparison price can be entirely arbitrary.

Say it’s not so! Would retailers actually bring out grade C items just to get you in the door? Sam Walton mastered this by putting up loss leaders at the front of his nascent Walmart operation to get people in the door, who then buy other things at healthy profit margin prices.

But the itch, the drive, the deep desire to capture the deals and offers is strong.  Like a gambler who can’t put up the bingo dabber for the special bingo night, the casino connoisseur who needs one more pull at the slots, the forty-something year old who has had it on record for 5 times to quit smoking as a new year resolution, but can’t leave the last cigarette be the last cigarette.  My litany of similes best describes consumerism in general, the twist for Black Friday, is the feeling of irreplaceable loss.  Like when Homer Simpson felt immense sadness when he missed the chance to see Mr. T at the mall, the feeling of missing out is a strong sting.  Retailers benefit from people having this loss.

What most haven’t figured out however, is that Black Friday is not the harbinger of deals and happiness that the glossy cover of consumerism alleges it to be.  From a frugal perspective you are not being clever by being one of a thousand who breaks down the barricades to secure a blender.  As mentioned, the power of research shows that Black Friday does not bring about the best deals, even if it did, let’s pretend it did.  While I can’t tell you what you need or want, but these pretend deals of the year, are they really needed items?

Do you really need that blender? When is the last time you thought of a blender? But there is one on sale for $20 and since you know nothing of blenders you have no idea how much they cost.  There is a nice one, a Gucci one that is $95. It is the first one you saw and due to anchoring bias you base all your fiscal decisions about blenders based on the Gucci one.

Wow, you think. $20, what a steal.  It’s not gaining a blender that is awesome, it is the feeling that you have snagged a deal of the century.

Just pay attention when someone tells you they bought something. Black Friday or not. Here is an example,

Your friend says “Dude, I got this awesome coat”
“Oh yeah? It’s the middle of summer and as I recall you have like 5 coats already” I would typically say
“Yeah, but it was $70 on sale from $200, I saved so much money”

Saved is the operative piece of information.  I’ve found, yes anecdotally it may be, but many people seem to use that piece of information, the fact that they saved, that ostensibly won some sort of mind battle with the merchants, as so imperative, so important.

This is why Black Friday is such an ace for retailers.  They have manufactured a system that creates the illusion of maximizing deals of maximizing surplus.  Retailers are twenty steps ahead.  They know this, they price and purchase stuff based on this.  The list price may be $70, but it was never made to sell for $70, instead it is quickly slashed to $35 and people think they’ve won the Spanish lottery.  The retailers bought it for $18 and has won the whole time. Black Friday is no different, it is a feeding frenzy for retailers.

But it does not matter, the people likely to go to Black Friday, might’ve heard the detractor’s arguments but they ignore it.  The pleasure, the fight, the winning is too powerful, like the Siren’s song, attracting wayward sailors, the shoppers will collide with Black Friday, many happy in their own apparent dogmatic consumerdom.

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