NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Stay home and sleep in this weekend: The Black Friday madness isn’t worth it (literally!)

This week­end is Thanks­giv­ing week­end, tra­di­tion­al­ly one of the longest week­ends of the year (owing to Thanks­giv­ing always falling on a Thursday).

It’s also tra­di­tion­al­ly the begin­ning of the Christ­mas shop­ping sea­son, and is thus a very impor­tant time of year for retailers.

Since the turn of the cen­tu­ry, major retail chains have gone to increas­ing­ly extreme lengths to draw in foot traf­fic the day after Thanks­giv­ing, a day that has come to be known in the Unit­ed States and around the world as Black Fri­day.

Many read­ers may not be aware that the term Black Fri­day orig­i­nat­ed in Philadel­phia in the 1960s, and ini­tial­ly referred not to mer­chants pass­ing the break-even point (climb­ing out of the red and into the black), but to the heavy traf­fic on the city’s streets, which cre­at­ed headaches for law enforcement.

Philadel­phia busi­ness­es did­n’t like the con­no­ta­tions of the nick­name “Black Fri­day”, and for a time, they pro­mot­ed a dif­fer­ent moniker: Big Friday.

But their alter­na­tive nev­er caught on with the press or the pub­lic. Black Fri­day stuck, and nowa­days, retail­ers are among its biggest pro­mot­ers. Many chains spend sig­nif­i­cant resources adver­tis­ing their Black Fri­day sales. They open their doors ear­ly (like at 4 AM) and offer what have become known as door­busters — big-tick­et or hot items that they sell at a loss in order to entice peo­ple into their stores.

Exec­u­tives at some chains are so eager to see Thanks­giv­ing week­end sales get start­ed that they’re order­ing employ­ees to report to work on Thanksgiving.

No, I’m not mak­ing this up:

Remem­ber the hal­cy­on days of 2011, when Thanks­giv­ing involved turkey, giv­ing thanks and hang­ing out with your fam­i­ly all day — and then lots of peo­ple got up at the crack of dawn the next day for Black Fri­day shopping?

Appar­ent­ly those were the good old days.

Tar­get and Wal­mart will both be open­ing the evening of Thanks­giv­ing to kick off hol­i­day shop­ping deals, with Tar­get announc­ing Mon­day they’ll open at 9 p.m. on Thanks­giv­ing; Wal­mart and Sears will do the same thing, but an hour ear­li­er — start­ing their “Black Fri­day” deals at 8 PM on Thanksgiving.

So much for Thanks­giv­ing being a fam­i­ly holiday.

Thank­ful­ly, Tar­get and Wal-Mart’s deci­sion to force their employ­ees to come into work on Thanks­giv­ing has result­ed in a back­lash. More than 30,000 peo­ple have signed a peti­tion urg­ing Wal-Mart to can­cel its plans to open on Turkey Day. A sim­i­lar peti­tion to Tar­get has amassed ten times as many sig­na­to­ries.

On a relat­ed note, many Wal-Mart work­ers are join­ing part in an effort to threat­en a strike on Black Fri­day. Wal-Mart exec­u­tives have become increas­ing­ly con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a wide­spread strike, and have now iron­i­cal­ly filed a com­plaint with the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board against the Unit­ed Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers (UFCW), which rep­re­sents work­ers at many of Wal-Mart’s com­peti­tors and has been try­ing to orga­nize Wal-Mart for years.

(NPI stands in sol­i­dar­i­ty with our broth­ers and sis­ters at UFCW; we salute them for all their efforts to hold Wal-Mart, the Beast of Ben­tonville, accountable).

The Cana­di­an non­prof­it AdBusters, which gave the Occu­py Wall Street move­ment its name, is once again urg­ing its sup­port­ers to not shop at all on Fri­day and instead observe “Buy Noth­ing” Day. Their pitch:

Until we chal­lenge the entrenched val­ues of cap­i­tal­ism – that the econ­o­my must always keep grow­ing, that con­sumer wants must always be sat­is­fied, that imme­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion is imper­a­tive – we’re not going able to fix the gigan­tic psy­cho-finan­cial-eco cri­sis of our times.

The jour­ney towards a sane sus­tain­able future begins with a sin­gle step. It could all start with a per­son­al chal­lenge, such as this: make a vow to your­self to par­tic­i­pate in Buy Noth­ing Day this year. This Novem­ber 23rd, go cold turkey on con­sump­tion for 24 hours … see what hap­pens … you just might have an unex­pect­ed, eman­ci­pa­to­ry epiphany!

We think the con­cept of “Buy Noth­ing Day” is com­pelling, giv­en our soci­ety’s unhealthy infat­u­a­tion with con­sump­tion. But for those who are not as social­ly and envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious, there’s actu­al­ly anoth­er good rea­son to stay home, sleep in, and skip the dark, cold, and (very pos­si­bly) rainy lines in park­ing lots: Research shows the best deals of the sea­son aren’t avail­able on Black Friday., a research firm spe­cial­iz­ing in track­ing the prices of elec­tron­ics, has ana­lyzed years of price data and con­clud­ed that Black Fri­day — along with its dig­i­tal coun­ter­part, “Cyber Mon­day” — are over­rat­ed:

Plan­ning to get in line for Black Fri­day? Expect­ing to spend next Mon­day glued to your com­put­er? Boy, have we got some big advice for you: Sleep in on Black Fri­day and skip the Cyber Mon­day hype.

That was the results of our exhaus­tive research into his­tor­i­cal prices of hol­i­day items over the past two years. We found that the deals you see aren’t deals at all. Nine of the 11 major con­sumer prod­uct cat­e­gories aver­aged a low­er price dur­ing this week lead­ing up to Black Fri­day and the week right before Christmas.

We tracked mil­lions of price move­ments from dozens of the top retailers—including Ama­zon, Best Buy, Sears, Wal­mart and more– dur­ing the 2010 and 2011 hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. From all that data we com­piles a list of prod­ucts you’re bet­ter off buy­ing at oth­er times dur­ing the holidays.

Decide’s team says that the best time to buy cam­eras, tele­vi­sions, vac­cums, hot toys, and espres­so machines is before Black Fri­day. (So, days like today). The week before Christ­mas is the best time to buy many kitchen appli­ances and lap­tops. That said, Black Fri­day is a good time to buy home fit­ness equip­ment and video games.

But those two cat­e­gories are the only exceptions.

Retail­ers love that many peo­ple are obsessed with the idea of get­ting great deals on Black Fri­day by camp­ing out ear­ly or get­ting in the door first, and have done every­thing they can to encour­age peo­ple to make shop­ping their religion.

Peo­ple like this Flori­da woman:

Itzai­da Diaz plans to spend more than $1,500 at Best Buy on Black Fri­day, and she’s will­ing to camp out in front of the store for near­ly a week to make sure she gets the best deals.

“We’re real­ly doing it for my son who land­ed sec­ond in line last year. He has a very com­pet­i­tive spir­it,” said Diaz of east Orange Coun­ty, who set up two tents out­side the East Colo­nial Dri­ve elec­tron­ics retail­er Sat­ur­day night. “He wants a Toshi­ba 40-inch flat-screen TV, and we’re also get­ting tablets, Sony PlaySta­tions, Blu-ray play­ers and oth­er things.”

Since Diaz and her fam­i­ly are first in line, they’ll receive tick­ets to Best Buy’s lim­it­ed-quan­ti­ty door­buster deals when the store opens Thurs­day at midnight.

“I know this is crazy, but we’re actu­al­ly spend­ing qual­i­ty time togeth­er, and we can save up to $200 at the same time,” said Diaz, who is tak­ing off time from work as an accountant.

Here’s an idea, Itzai­da: Why don’t you pack up the tent, go home, pre­pare a hearty meal for Thanks­giv­ing, enjoy that meal, and play a board game with your son and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers? Then, if you feel like shop­ping lat­er on, pow­er up your com­put­er and browse for prices on elec­tron­ics online. Do some research (use Make a pur­chase or two if you’re con­vinced you’ve spot­ted a good deal. But don’t blow that much mon­ey on one day at one store in the wee hours of the morn­ing. Don’t spend your hol­i­day in front of a big box store.

Retail­ers have every incen­tive to make us all believe that our hol­i­day week­end is best spent at the mall, in their stores, load­ing up our cred­it cards with debt and buy­ing as much stuff as pos­si­ble. The impli­ca­tion is that buy­ing stuff will make us hap­py. But the hol­i­day we’re cel­e­brat­ing this week is Thanks­giv­ing — not Black Fri­day. And Thanks­giv­ing is an occa­sion to be con­tent, not greedy.

Too many peo­ple seem to have lost sight of what Thanks­giv­ing is all about, not least the exec­u­tives of Wal-Mart and Tar­get. I’m hap­py to say I don’t patron­ize those chains. I pre­fer to shop local, to shop union, and to shop organ­ic when­ev­er I pos­si­bly can. (That’s why PCC Nat­ur­al Mar­kets — which will be closed for the entire dura­tion of Thanks­giv­ing — is my favorite place to spend money).

We at NPI believe Thanks­giv­ing is, or should be, pri­mar­i­ly about three things: giv­ing thanks, spend­ing time with fam­i­ly, and con­tem­plat­ing the improve­ment of the human con­di­tion. There are many peo­ple on this Earth who sim­ply do not enjoy the free­doms or crea­ture com­forts that we Amer­i­cans have, and Thanks­giv­ing is as good an occa­sion as any to remem­ber that there are mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing with­out shel­ter, clean water, or ade­quate food.

This Thanks­giv­ing week­end, if you’re for­tu­nate not to have to work, con­sid­er donat­ing to a char­i­ty like Mer­cy­Corps and relax­ing at home instead of fight­ing the Black Fri­day crowds at Belle­vue Square, South­cen­ter, or Alder­wood Mall. You’ll save mon­ey, and you’ll have the chance to make the most of your time off, too.

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