Thursday, November 24, 2011
Commentary on Black Friday
Despite high unemployment and foreclosure rates, merchants are pinning their hopes on Black Friday this year as never before since the concept began in the 1960s. The retail day started at the stroke of midnight or even earlier for some, with hordes of consumers expected to vie for a limited number of sale items. Black Friday web sites promise inside information on deals, while Thanksgiving Day newspapers were stuffed with “doorbuster” ads.
This mad pursuit of happiness through the aisles of Walmart and Target brought to mind the 1998 exploration of consumerism known as “Affluenza.” It was produced at KCTS in Seattle, where my daughter Audrey was working at the time. As an advocate of voluntary simplicity, I found it compelling. Its message is echoed today in the Occupy Wall Street protests and deserves a second look. It includes a diagnosis and a treatment that have relevance for today.
The sign above shows that even small downtown stores here want to get in on the Black Friday craze.
Though shoppers may be tempted to compete for bargains, the fact is that retailers mainly want to get you into the store. If you have waited in line but missed out on the best sales, you are likely to stay and spend money (or run up your credit card) anyway.
Black Friday previews and stories are staples of newspaper coverage, but when I was a reporter it was an assignment I hated second only to the annual re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. After Macy's closed and the influx of dollar stores started here, there was not much to write about in downtown Plainfield, where shoppers tended to wait until the last days before Christmas to shop for gifts. In other places, the standard question was whether the shopper was spending more or less for the holidays. As online shopping became more popular, interviews downtown or in a mall told less of the story.
There are statistics on how long it takes Americans to work off the cost of taxes (Tax Freedom Day) and you can now also calculate how long it might take to pay off holiday debt. Of course, the best strategy is not to incur more debt than you can handle. Take a cue from the Jolly Old Elf himself - make a list, check it twice, and as a consumer try not to be naughty, but nice - to your wallet.