AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: Black Friday DATE: 11/26/2004 11:04:00 AM ----- BODY:
I will never understand Black Friday. According to some sources, Black Friday is not what it used to be--an utter melee of consumerism, in other words--but apparently this year, with a job market showing meager improvement and fuel prices "easing" (or all of us just getting used to the outrage), or perhaps aided politically by an increased American tendency to simply "obey",
A survey by the leading U.S. retail trade group, the National Retail Federation, estimated up to 130 million consumers would go shopping over the weekend. The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holiday shopping season, beginning with Black Friday, accounts for 23 percent of annual retail sales. Black Friday used to be the biggest shopping day of the year, but in recent years it has vied with the last Saturday before Christmas for the top spot. In 2003, Black Friday was the biggest shopping day with shops ringing up $7.2 billion in sales. ShopperTrak has forecast Black Friday sales will rise 3 percent to 5 percent from a year earlier. Retailers consider it important to lure the crowds on Black Friday as this could influence shopping habits for the rest of the holiday season, when Americans are expected to spend about $220 billion, according to NRF. (Reuters)
Check out the many ways Black Friday causes ordinary citizens to completely debase themselves:
"You've got to have a system," said Barbara Hicks, a Lansing resident who has missed one Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping outing in the past seven years. "We look in the paper the night before, make a list of items we want and target certain stores," she said. "Usually our first stop is Kmart or Wal-Mart. The phone calls start at 4 or 4:30 to make sure everyone's up. We're usually in line by 5 or 5:30. If it's 5:30, it's late." (Lansing State Journal)
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7:00 am More than 2,000 people waited outside a Sears store in Phoenix, said spokeswoman Jan Drummond according to Bloomberg. What's hot? This morning it was 50% off Craftsman tool sets. 8:00 am Michaels customers in line at the registers hoped to use both their 6am-8am 50% off and 8am-10am 40% off any one item coupons since the they were going through the registers at the change of the hour. Marilyn Breskie of Elk Grove Village, IL, applauded the cashier's courtesy and the ease with which she used both coupons. "Honestly, I didn't think they'd let me get away it," Breskie commented. What's hot? The coupons. 9:00 am The lines that wrapped around the outside of Wal-Mart in Riverside, CA before it opened at 6am were gone, but the store was packed. The early bird shoppers had long since come and gone, and then were replaced with a new crowd. In typical customer friendly, Wal-Mart style, the employees served up coffee and donuts in the parking lot to the hordes who waited for the store to open that morning. What's hot? A 19-inch television for under $100 and of course, toys. 10:00 am That final push of early morning shoppers hit their remaining favorite stores to cash in on the last hour or two of early bird bargains. Many retailers, including Kmart and Kohl's offered special discounts for those customers who shopped before 11am or noon. What's hot? Kohl's half carat diamond earrings for $169 flew off the jewelry counters, while the toy departments at Kmart were awash with customers excited about 20% off the entire stock of toys. 11:00 am Target jumped with customers looking for Pokémon Game Boy cartridges. The first thousand lucky guests who lined up before the stores opened were greeted with Pokémon door hangers and a chance to win a limited edition, exclusive Pokémon backpack. What's hot? The Pokémon, special Pikachu edition, yellow version Game Boy cartridge and Toy Story 2 toys. (About.com (1999))
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Early-bird specials lured shoppers into queues outside malls as early as 2.30 a.m. One man in Texas slept in his car outside the store overnight to be first in line.Reuters
Meanwhile, retailers lick their chops in anticipation:
"These people who start planning are smart shoppers," said John Zimmerman, spokesman for Meijer, where the deals start at 5 a.m. "We know there's going to be a mad rush. But this is our bread and butter." (LSJ)
Maybe it's because I'm something of a misanthrope, or maybe it's because I have worked in retail / customer service positions recently enough not to have forgotten them, or maybe it's because I'm skeptical of groupthink in general, but to me Black Friday is downright Orwellian. Since when did it become a responsibility to do such holiday shopping? To the point where people are sleeping in cars to get "deals" on things that neither they or their giftees need anyway? How is it a "deal" when you're being essentially peer-pressured into sacrificing your dignity and credit rating to feed the retail industry? Ooh, look! Holiday wreaths are 50% off at the Christmas Tree Shop! Well, that certainly makes my unemployment check stretch further! Or, hey, how about the 50% off Crafstman tool kits at Sears today! Gotta get in line early for that! Bob'll sure appreciate these tools the times he's home, which of course won't be often since he had to take that second job, but that'll just make them more special, right? And we just have to pick up the newest video games for Johnny, he'll really love them if when he comes home from Iraq! I guess I just get angry at the entire hypocritical notion of the holidays in general, and Black Friday symbolizes them at their worst. It's a day when people simply act like animals, from car accidents and road rage over parking spaces to elbowing and shoving and undercutting one another to get in line first or squeeze maybe a penny more out of a bargain. And this is about "giving"? Please. And speaking of giving, I mean no offense to the Salvation Army people--on their end, it's smart to stand directly outside the mall when people are streaming by on their way to Tickle Me Elmo or whatever, if for no other reason than to make them feel shame if they walk by without giving even pocket change when they're about to melt their VISA card inside JC Penney--but am I the only one sick unto death of all the feel-good charity stories that surface around this time of year? Why do we give ourselves two weeks to pat ourselves on the back for being so generous, and then go back to being our typical asshole selves without a thought around Jan. 2? Meanwhile, what are most charities geared toward around Christmas time? Sure, you have your soup kitchens or food pantries or homeless shelters here and there, but so many of these charities, like Toys for Tots or Santa programs, are to provide toys to children whose parents can't afford them. I'm not saying it's not good of people to think of those less fortunate, and of course these parents want to give their kids gifts and should be able to. But to me there's something totally wrong with the big picture here: does it mean that drowning your children in overpriced plastic is what being a parent at the holiday season is all about? That for working-class parents who have trouble making ends meet, the holidays are a time to feel inadequate--so inadequate that even if they feed, clothe and otherwise raise their children right the rest of the year, if they can't plop the Pokemon video game underneath a tree on Dec. 25, they're a charity case? Like I said, when did gift-giving become a responsibility rather than a voluntary act? And don't even get me started on peace on earth and goodwill to men. Why do people do it? Why, knowing the whirling, miserable cesspool of humanity that awaits them, do people simply follow along and flock to the stores? Why not wait till, say, Monday to do shopping? Why not buy online? It's what I do, and here's a little secret: even including shipping, many items are less expensive online than in stores, online stores are hardly ever out of stock, they'll do your shipping for you, and most importantly, you won't end up with so many of those "exhaustion buys", you know, the hideous and / or useless items you wind up with after your brain blows out from too much shopping before you leave a store. You'll buy what you need, let someone else ship it directly to the recipient if necessary, and save on gasoline and potential medical bills from the stress of the Mall. Maybe I'm just weird, though. When I think of the Mall around Christmastime--small, spoiled children screaming while waiting in line to have their picture taken with a fat man in red faux fur; old women suddenly becoming ninjas in checkout lines; over-eager and / or exhausted salespeople; hideous red and green bullshit junk nobody needs; the same recycled Christmas carols blaring over loudspeakers--all I can do is shudder. But some people apparently enjoy that shit. Which is fine, more power to them, but I don't think I'll ever get it.
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