Madness I Say

The air is cooler now, the last straggler leaves are hanging on in vain and the TV blares ads and Christmas jingles.  It must be Thanksgiving.  And what comes with Thanksgiving?

Black Friday!

Yes, that consumer smorgasbord of “deals” meant to strip us of hard-earned cash early in the season of giving.  Yes, long lines, maddening crowds, a little trampling here or there and stores opening the break of dawn (well, break of dawn in Europe maybe).  For weeks now we have been inundated with ads for “pre-Black Friday” and the real thing.  For some (I’m looking at you Target and Amazon) the first Black Friday sales were on the day after Halloween!  Pretty soon if this date creep continues the first Black Friday deals will be available on Boxing Day.

And what for?

Historically Black Friday marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  As a child I can remember for Frederick and Nelson‘s, a department store in downtown Seattle would keep their windows covered up until that day.  When the blinds came down, we were greeted with magical vistas of Christmas gifts and scenes.  The stores themselves had not decorated until the night before.  There was no wreath hanging in the mall the first week of November.  It was that day that Santa took up residence in his corner at the store while hundreds of families braved the cold and wet weather for yearly pictures with him.   After that day it was OK to be Christmas.  As a kid it was that struggle to keep ourselves contained until the magical day now less than a month away.

As I got older it began to mean less and less.  When I worked for UPS, Black Friday was the start of “peak” season.  It meant more planes, more packages and more hours.  It also meant more stress on the workers.  Later on when I moved companies it meant more importers calling to see if their shipment was on the flight that just landed and when it would clear Customs.   While it was rare to see Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, now it began earlier.  I cried when the first Christmas ad I heard was on the day after Halloween one year.

But what does it mean for industry?  Traditionally, the theory goes, it is the day that stores start showing a profit, or “being in the black”.  Thanks to creative accounting and reckless spending by the American public, nearly any day can do this now, but some still hold true.  But the sales data from Black Friday, and it’s cousin, Cyber Monday, are heralded with glee by news commentators as to the health of the spending public.  Moreso, it is a chance to offer slightly enticing deals to get shoppers into the stores. A $4 mixer?  Sure, I already have 2, but you never know when I’ll need another, plus it’s too good of a deal to pass up!  Brainless consumerism, buying stuff because it is a “good deal” is the sickness of the American consumer.

Not to say that I’m immune.  Each year I look at the ads and weight my options.  A couple of years ago, I was with my wife’s family in Northern Arizona for Thanksgiving.  Even in a small town, there was still Black Friday madness, I mean, there was JC Penny, and Fashion Bug and of course Walmart.  I had had my eye on a digital camera since my old one got lost on vacation earlier that year and Walmart had a deal.  I figured being a small town, things would no be so crazy.  Not.  I rolled down to the store early, like 5am early and the place was hopping.  Not trampling busy, but plenty of folks doing their thing.  Lucky for me I had the clarity of a mission.  Blinders firmly in place, I headed towards the Electronics section, skirting the scrum of people wrangling over $20 DVD players and wrestling over the last of the 3 cheap laptops in stock, I found my camera.  Grabbed it along with an extra battery and memory card and I was gone.  Through the check-out quickly thanks to cash and on my way.  Total time elapsed:  5 minutes.  Of course we went back later in the day for the late risers and it was crazier then than it had been at 5am.  And there was still a huge stack of the camera I bought earlier that morning.

This year, like the last 2 I will be on my way home when the shopping madness is in full swing having worked the night before.  My wife and our neighbor are going to brave the crowds for some stupid reason, but I’m staying at home this year.  So to all of you going out on Black Friday, good luck.  Be safe and be smart.