Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Black Friday Is a Scam for Consumers

In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is the single busiest shopping day of the year. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is the starting pistol that signals people across the country to begin their search for that perfect gift en masse. Although Black Friday continues to gain momentum year after year, I think that it becomes more and more of a scam for consumers each year.

Why Black Friday Is a Scam for ConsumersThe story goes that retailers who operate at a loss most of the year do enough business on Black Friday to make a profit and thus move their accounting figures from red to black, hence the name. Retailers encourage shoppers to spend more by offering one-day-only sales on limited quantities of goods at drastically reduced prices. These no-coupon, no-rebate, and no rain check sales are the stuff of legend, which is why they occur just once a year.

In the days leading up to Black Friday, Internet message boards begin buzzing with rumors about which stores are having the biggest sales. People post store flyers and advertisements online and discuss which stores are having the best deals. Consumers get shaken up with excitement over these deals as the pressure builds like a bottle of soda.

On Thanksgiving Day people begin lining up outside retail stores like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, and the shopping mall. They will endure darkness, discomfort, and cold weather all night long just to be first in line on opening day. They will take time off from work and be away from their families at the prospect of saving a few dollars on some hot consumer item. Some people even camp out days in advance!

This kind of insane consumer loyalty has expanded beyond Black Friday and is now commonplace. People have camped out for the release of major video game systems including the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii. People will line up outside of a movie theater hours before a film opens to catch the first midnight show (Star Wars anyone?). Some people will queue up outside of bookstores waiting for the hot new titles from JK Rowling wearing homemade costumes of the characters! They will wait in line for hours to buy concert tickets, iPhones and just about everything else.

On Black Friday, the pressure reaches a critical mass. Spots at the front of the line are sold for hundreds of dollars in the hours before stores open. Crowds of ravenous shoppers tear through the stores as the front doors are unlocked. People shove each other out of the way as they run down the aisles. Store workers are trampled and injured in the mass of confusion. Shoppers motivated by greed will buy two or more of a hot item hoping to resell it at an inflated price.

Black Friday is a frenzy of consumer spending unlike anything else in the world. It is an orgy of spending and mass consumption. This poses the question: is getting a great deal worth the true cost of Black Friday deals? I don't think it is.

The whole ritual that Black Friday has become just sickens me. I can't believe that people will stand in line outside of a store all night so they can have the "privilege" of being the first to fork over their hard earned cash for some mass produced piece of garbage. I can't believe they will pay hundreds of dollars to cut to the front of the line. I can't believe they can be so brutal to their fellow man when storming the aisles in search of bargains. They trample each other like a herd of wild animals instead of civilized humans. Christmas is a time for joy, peace, and love. Black Friday is just the opposite: it is all about greed, selfishness, and a lack of compassion for others.

To take part in the madness of Black Friday is to give up your dignity as a consumer. Standing in line all night says to the world that there's nothing you won't do to save a few bucks. By standing in line, your friends, family, co-workers, and even retailers can see what a gullible fool you are. Am I being too harsh? Absolutely not, because only a fool would stand in line all night risking their own safety and comfort to buy that must-have present! In all likeliness, a present that will be forgotten about by next Thanksgiving.

I like getting great deals as much as the next guy, but the truth is that many of these hot deals just aren't worth it. An example might help illustrate my point. Let's say that a big-box electronics retailer is advertising a $100 digital camera for $49 in-store, one day only. $51 dollars off sounds like a great deal, right?

Well if you arrive at the store at midnight and stake out a place in line until the store opens at 8am, that's eight hours of waiting. You only saved a little over $6 dollars an hour by standing there all night (assuming you actually get the camera). Is that $6 dollars worth more to you than an hour with your family? Is it worth more than an hour of sleep? This is the hidden cost of these "killer deals:" you pay for them with your time.

Personally, it's worth it to me to pay the regular price and get a good night's sleep. It's worth it to me to not get trampled by some foaming-at-the-mouth, bargain-crazed shopper on the way to the electronics department. It's worth it to me to maintain my dignity as a shopper. No product is so desirable to me that I would pay twice its retail value to a scalper selling one on Craigslist.

Don't get me wrong, I like gadgets and technology. But nothing is so important to own that I would lie in a sleeping bag on the ground and watch the sun come up for. That shitty feeling would forever be associated with that product in my mind and I would remember it every time I used it.

Do the world a favor and shop sensibly this year on Black Friday. Don't join the hoards of compulsive consumers in wrestling over Bluetooth earpieces. It's not worth your dignity or your time. Remember, it's just stuff.

I'm not the only one who feels this way: