Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday - A Perspective . . .

The turkey bones are picked clean, the leftovers are carefully stored in the refrigerator, the parades and football games are over and some of the travelers have departed from "grandmother's house" to return home . . . OR HAVE THEY? Yes! Another Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday has passed and the throngs are sated.

But today is "Black Friday," an unofficial holiday. This is the day that has come to be known for the unbridled avariciousness need to acquire as much stuff as possible at, supposedly, the lowest prices possible. This is the day when nearly 50% of the population of the United States will go on a shopping rampage creating some of the worst, if not THE worst traffic, gridlock, pedestrian congestion and store crowding of the entire year.

In The Beginning . . .

The term "Black Friday" actually began in Philadelphia with a negative meaning in a 1961 public relations newsletter describing both the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving as two days the police, other public safety agencies and retail store employees considered probably the two days of the year they dreaded the most. It was in 1966 that the term became more or less public, but was still limited to use in describing those two days in Philadelphia. As late as 1985, many large cities across the U.S. still weren't familiar with or using the term.

It was in a 1980's move by the retailers' "bean counters" to turn the negative connotations of Black Friday into a positive. The retail stores began using the term to mean it was the day when the retailers stopped chalking up losses in "red ink." In accounting records profits are indicated in "black ink" or being "in the black." So, Black Friday was now being touted as the day when retailers began turning a profit for the year.

In fact, like everything else in retail marketing, there is so much hype that it's difficult for the voracious shopper to know the difference (or even care, for that matter) between reality and fiction. For example, Black Friday has been touted as the busiest shopping day of the year, when in fact, from 1993 to 2001, as a representative example, it ranked between the fifth and tenth busiest shopping day. The Saturday before Christmas has pretty well held the title as the busiest shopping day. It wasn't until 2003 that Black Friday, with continually increased promotion, actually became the busiest shopping day (with the exception of 2004).

Free Enterprise

Now, to add a bit more perspective to this bit of prose, I am an entrepreneur and proud of it. So, I believe in and support the free enterprise system. But, like most things in this world, especially if man-made (with no slight meant toward the female of the species), there are flaws, pros, cons and good and bad aspects of the system. Without question, we are in the 21st Century and civilization has progressed for tens of thousands of years. We've progressed through the Stone and Bronze Ages and the Agricultural, Industrial and Information Revolutions. Currently, I would suggest we are in the Walmart Mentality Age progressing rapidly into the Cyber Age.

What all this means is that most people fulfill their basic need requirements much faster than at any time in history and reach the "want" stage of their lives much earlier. I don't necessarily view this as a negative or a positive. What I do see as a negative is that because of the evolutionary process of "stuff" and marketing, we have, in the U.S. created a population of voracious consumers. A simple need 60 years ago for a pair of Keds sneakers for gym class has evolved to a want and consumption of $150 Air Jordans just to be cool, gym class be damned.

We have just, finally, made it through the most expensive and incessant political election cycles in history. Thank God, those political ads have stopped running on radio, TV, the Internet and print media. But, now, turning on the TV is opening your mind to a constant, mind numbing barrage of vapid, intelligence insulting Black Friday commercials. Frankly, if I have a choice, I prefer to go into a Target store before a Walmart store and KMart is way down on my list. But, just on general principle, the Target commercials won't allow me to go near their stores during this holiday season. They are, so far, worse than obnoxious to my sensibilities.

This is all part of the free enterprise system. Now, not to be a hypocrite, I, like everyone else, like a deal. But, I won't, like so many people will, fight traffic, go several blocks out of their way and make their way back to a gas station on the opposite side of a divided highway where the price is one or two cents less then the station on my side. If I put 20 gallons of gas in my van, that's a savings of 40 measly cents. I likely used 50 or 60 cents of gas just getting to the "cheaper" gas station.

Small Business Saturday

Thankfully, there appears to be a small, but significant shopping contingent who are supporting small, local retailers. When the "Big Box Houses" like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and others move into an area, it often signs the death knell for the small, local, often referred to as mom and pop, family owned businesses. One of the most obvious examples of this is the local, independent bookstore., now nearly extinct. A fun movie, but indicative of this cultural phenomena, is You've Got Mail starring Meg Ryan as the owner of a small, neighborhood bookstore in Manhattan driven out of business by the Mega Bookstore (similar too, but not named, Barnes & Noble).

So, to counter this Black Friday consumer feeding frenzy, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been dubbed "Small Business Saturday" that was conceived and promoted by American Express for the 2010 shopping season. This year an estimated 100,000,000 or about one-third of the U.S. population will spend some of their holiday money at their local small businesses. While American Express is certainly a huge financial organization, it's gratifying that they are using some of their clout to assist and support those locally owned and operated small businesses.

As I said, as a lifetime entrepreneur and small business owner/operator and a supporter of the free enterprise system, I support the idea that we all need to help the economy by spending some of our hard earned money in retail purchases. What totally boggles my mind is the mindless abandon, mob mentality and feeding frenzy behavior demonstrated by people who, otherwise, wish to be considered intelligent, morale and responsible individuals.

The Primordial Soup

Of course, I have to accept that I am a pragmatic individual. Yes! again, not to be a hypocrite, I have certainly bought "stuff" during my lifetime that was frivolous, useless and, most certainly extraneous to my actual needs and even most of my reasonable and realistic wants. I don't know if it's something that's been added to the water supply or we are conditioned (we most certainly are) to want all kinds of stuff, whether child or adult, that we don't actually want or have to have, but - the frenzy causes us to need to buy it. I don't see this behavior as being all that different than people becoming sucked into extremely expensive sporting events or concerts and enduring ear damaging screaming and noise just to be among a mob of 75,000 or 100,000 other screaming people. No one can actually hear the musical artists performing and they really can't see the sporting event nearly as well as they can on a large screen TV in their family room. But, there is a primordial need to be part of this mass hysteria and to part with hard earned dollars, believing that this ritual will be appreciated by the recipient of the "perfect" gift (by the shopper's definition), when, in fact, it may not actually be even a close match.

But, as a believer in "living free" and living the lifestyle any way an individual chooses for him or her self, it is not within my pay grade to determine how people (or maybe this is another place where the term "sheeple" applies) allocate their time, energy, resources or finances. The amazing thing is that most of these people know that the day after Christmas Day EVERYTHING goes on sale for 50% to 75% off to clear the inventory so it can be replaced with all the stuff they're going to be bombarded with for Valentines Day, Spring Sales, graduations, June weddings, etc. And, amazingly, the sale prices will be just as good as on Black Friday.

It's no wonder that countries and societies around the world first want to emulate Americans because we can "have it all." But, then, when the hard realities set in that you can have it all if you can PAY for it all, those same people begin to look at Americans as spoiled children with little self-discipline. Is there any wonder that Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy and other European nations are having problems coping with economic reality. Is it any wonder this can often result in violence, just as we've seen already during the past several years of Black Fridays. There are incidents that include the trampling death of a Walmart employee, a customer shot at another store, a woman using pepper spray to gain an advantage over shoppers at another store and the violent incidents seem to be escalating.

So, this is my perspective on Black Friday. I'm satisfied to be warm, comfortable, relaxed and far from the maddening mobs. I'm preparing to make myself a nice lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers. Sometime during the day I may look at the news and see how this day is going. I hope there are no incidents of violence and everyone gets all the "stuff" they fought and clawed to buy. I'm happy to be among the 50% of the population who are not participating in the craziness.  

No comments: