Black Friday.

November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving is this week, which means that we are also rapidly coming up on Black Friday. I don’t know which I hate more, the meaningless holiday based on genocide and lying to children about how g-ddamn friendly the Pilgrims and the Indians were to each other(I actually have more beef with Thanksgiving than with Columbus Day on this front because no little kids are acting out plays in which Columbus and some Indians with feathers on their heads sit down and enjoy a turkey), or the day after – the biggest holiday in retail.

Black Friday may not be the biggest day in the shopping year in terms of sales, but it is the day with the greatest amount of foot traffic. And it’s certainly the day that retail stores put the most attention to. Opening as early as 4 in the morning, advertising one-day-only sales, or in some cases, sales that end by noon. This year, Wal-Mart (the US’s greatest retailer of gifts) has gone so far as to suppress any advance information regarding their sales. Not only are the sales themselves all about the hype, but to go so far as to say that your sales are so awesome that you can’t possibly allow competitors to gain advance knowledge of them creates meta-hype. This is really pretty great PR for Wal-Mart.

Which is what the whole thing is about anyway, it’s all PR. It’s all hype. Sure, you might save $20 on a DVD player. You feel like you’re getting such a good deal, like you’re beating the system and hey! You’re being rewarded for it. So, what do you do? You buy a sweater.

This is how sales work, people. It’s all pyschological. It’s all for effect! Yes, you may save an amount of money. That is, if you go into a store looking for one specific item that you know in advance will be on sale and walk out with that item and that item alone. Yes, then you have saved money. But, having worked in retail, and having watched the American consumer in its natural habitat, I can tell you that this is not usually how it works. Usually, you browse. You find the thing that you were looking for. Let’s use the example of a book, since I worked in a bookstore. What’dya know? Who Moved My Cheese? is on the 3 for 2 table! So, you figure, if you buy Tuesdays With Morrie then you can get The DaVinci Code “free!” WHAT A DEAL!

Do you see the fallacy here? If you went in to buy Who Moved My Cheese? and walked out of the store paying for two books instead of one, it doesn’t matter how many books you got for “free” on top of that – you just spent more money. You did not save a dime. Now, if you really needed all three of these tomes, then yes, you have found yourself a sweet deal. But how many of us really actually need another shirt from the “Buy one get one half off” rack? If you go into a store to buy one item and go out paying for more than one item, you have been suckered by the magic of retail. It’s a powerful, powerful force. Until I really realized how it worked – from the business end of things, going through meetings that detailed selling strategies such as the placement of sales stickers to draw maximum attention – I was suckered by it many a time myself, I’ll admit.

This is why you won’t find me lining up in front of Wal-Mart on Black Friday. I want my gifts to be about what inspires me about my loved ones. I don’t want my Christmas shopping to be all about trying to save $5 on a toaster. I’m also really, really broke. I’m also buying handmade this year because I’m a hippie like that and prefer to support the counter-culture rather than the mainstream soul-sucking retail giants. Five AM, day after Thanksgiving, I will be blissfully asleep.