A few weeks ago, outdoors retailer REI made waves when it announced it would close its 143 stores for Black Friday.
A collective gasp went up from the retail world. Who in their right mind would miss what has become a major cultural event, a chance to revel in the irresistible power of consumerism and the contents of the darkest corners of the human soul? What retailer in its right mind would give up all that revenue?
Many commentators and customers have praised REI for the decision. Other folks who didn't have any fondness for Black Friday in the first place said, "It's about time." As a recovering former Black Friday fan, I fell into that second category.
I had learned from firsthand experience that Black Friday was bad for a number of reasons-which experience usually involved me ducking out of Thanksgiving dinner way too early, spending a few hours at the local Walmart to position myself, then pouncing on my prey, then returning home as people were leaving and dishes were being washed. Happy holidays, indeed.
This year, I am taking a stand. Forget the so-called low prices that you just can't miss out on. Forget the guilty pleasure of people-watching as people lose their self-control over a waffle iron. I'm skipping Black Friday and I invite you to join me for the following five reasons:
The whole Black Friday concept is based around creating one day or one night where you just have to be at the store or risk missing deals that will never be seen again until next Black Friday. While this may have been true in Black Fridays of old, it's not true this year. As retailers move up their sales or move them online, Black Friday is losing its monopoly on deep discounts.
One store after another has stopped putting their eggs in the Black Friday basket. Radio Shack is moving its biggest sale to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Sears is giving a special, low-price sale to its most loyal customers on the Sunday before Thanskgiving. And on Nov. 20, Gap decided to just do it already with a "Black Friday Starts Now" promotion, with 50% off for Gap cardholders and 40% off for everybody else.
And then there are all those sales online, where you don't have to wait in the cold or throw any elbows. According to Gregory Karp at the Chicago Tribune, shoppers can expect to see more of these than ever before:
"An estimated 135.8 million people are expected to shop online and in stores over Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday... and Sunday. Yet more people may shop on Cyber Monday than any of the other days, according to a retail federation survey."
A quick search shows big retailers like Walmart, Target, American Eagle, and Kohl's holding big Cyber Monday promotions. In a break with tradition, Macy's is holding a Black Friday Web Buster sale on their site beginning the day before Thanksgiving; they'll also have their own Cyber Monday sale less than a week later.
Suffice it to say that Black Friday is no longer the unmissable ultimate sale event it used to be. No one needs to risk life and limb to get the best deals on holiday gifts.
A recent survey by WalletHub dug into the prices of thousands of items at some of the biggest retailers, especially around Black Friday. What they found defied traditional Black Friday wisdom ("You gotta do it because the prices are the lowest they'll ever be.").
The study called out Amazon, in particular for its deceptive discounts. "When we look at the items that will be more expensive on Black Friday, Amazon is the worst offender," said WalletHub's spokesperson. "We've seen that with Amazon, it's actually the earlier the better."
Just how many items were affected by these deceptive sales discounts? About 17% of listed items, according to the study.
Other retailers in the survey, although not quite as bad as Amazon, were found to offer discounts that weren't any lower than discounts offered at other times of the year.
In another sign that Black Friday isn't the "can't miss" event it used to be, several big-name retailers are going to REI path by closing their doors on Thanksgiving, instead of inviting customers to bust through them. Among these companies are names like H&M, Nordstrom, T.J. Maxx, Lowes, and Home Depot.
Again, the tides are turning toward customers and retailers moving to other times and locations to offer lower prices on the gifts people want. Thankfully, they're moving away from the Thanksgiving holiday.
We put ourselves through the Black Friday ordeal supposedly to get the holiday gifts our loved ones want and maybe save some money on the gifts at the same time. It's all about giving, right? Then why does Black Friday feel so greedy, so un-Christmas-ey?
One Black Friday, I found myself jockeying for position around a cardboard display of Wii video games. Before the horn blew, a few shoppers had already built a barrier around the display with shopping carts. When the horn blew, every shopper with a ten-yard radius converged on the display at once, diving over carts, pulling items out of shoppers' carts. In seconds, the display was crushed; empty-handed shoppers began accusing those who got the games they wanted of cheating somehow.
The following year, I was in Walmart's toy section when I witnessed a middle-aged woman tackle a princess playset to the ground, throwing her body over the top so no one else could take it.
Yes, Black Friday brings out the worst in human beings, not the best, as seems to be the point of this whole Christmas thing. Just in case you need a reminder of the bad behavior that erupts on Black Friday (and Thursday), here's one...
And another one...
And just one more...
I recently got to talking to a kid in my neighborhood who happens to work at Walmart. As a newbie there, chances are he'll be asked to work on Thanksgiving night. So I asked.
For a second, he looked downcast. "Yes," he replied sadly, but then quickly recovered with a cheerful, "But I get a 15-percent discount at checkout."
We often forget that, when Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and other retailers moved their biggest sales to Thanksgiving night or early in the morning on Black Friday, they took their employees away from their families on a holiday-a holiday that has traditionally been about bringing families together.
Employees have to work hours beforehand to get everything set. When the horn blows or the doors open, employees are caught in the middle of all that chaos. And then when the store has been ripped apart, it's the employees who clean up and make it look presentable again.
It's a long shot, but if enough shoppers rejected Black Friday sales as they exist now, those retail employees might just be able to spend the holiday with their families again. Wishful thinking? Yes. Unrealistic? Probably. But I can't think of anything more Christmas-ey.