Up until newspapers died, I used to love getting the big Sunday paper every week. I didn’t love them for the articles or the comprehensive sports section. It wasn’t even the TV Guide or the color comics which were both highlights of the Sunday paper when I was a kid. For me it was always about the ads. I was a big-time tech geek even back in my young adulthood and would look forward every Sunday to being able to flip through the new Best Buy and Circuit City ads and lust over whatever gadget I dreamed about or to see if any on my list had fallen enough in price to the point where I could afford them.
Like many different institutions there was an annual pinnacle to the Sunday paper ritual, a Super Bowl Sunday equivalent in the world of sales circulars if you will. Interestingly enough it didn’t come out on a Sunday. The Biggest Sunday paper of all was the Sunday like paper that came out on Thanksgiving. What made that particular paper so special was that it is the day of the Black Friday ads. Black Friday as most folks know is the big, quasi official kickoff to christmas shopping season. Retailers packed the paper so thick with circulars that it was twice as big as it was every other week of the year. All the ads had highlights of some highly coveted products with tremendously low pricing. These loss leaders were the big hook to get everyone out the next morning. I would spend hours and hours pouring over all the ads, even the stuff that typically didn’t interest me.
The True History of Black Friday:
The true story behind Black Friday is well chronicled by History.com. In the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. It was all hands on deck for the peace officers. They were not be able to take the day off and also had to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise adding to the law enforcement’s seasonal spike in need.
By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, in fact as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the more popular “red to black” urban legend where the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit for the year. That’s a better story for retailers and history was reinvented.
Over time the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event, and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. You gotta love the relentless creativity and drive of the American retailer and for a while I was all-in on their plans.
I don’t know that I can do a very good job in describing the allure of Black Friday. I can only say that for me and many others, the retailer’s figured out how to dangle the unobtainable and make us think that we could finally get it. I’ve had a few Black Friday outings, some successful, others not so much. The first real attempt for me was one Thanksgiving where I decided I was going to be savvy to get the deal on that years tech item du-jour. I was going to get up at 4am and be the first in line at my local Best Buy! So that Friday I wake up at 4am, rub my wife’s arm to ease her awake and we bundle up and head out into the frigid cold early winter morning to finally pick up that big screen HDTV for half what it usually cost. Imagine my surprise as we get there and it’s bedlam. There were literally thousands of people in line at 4 a.m. By my calculation the line was four to six people wide and was at least three-quarters of a mile long, possibly longer. I remember driving slowly by the line thinking this thing is never going to end. At the time the small print on the ad read guaranteed 10 per store minimum. There was probably 10 people sitting around in the very first space in line and probably 1,000 filled spaces behind that. I looked at my wife and said we are not going to do this, so we drove to Bob Evans and went and had us a very early morning hot breakfast.
If you are of an age where you recall the initial Insanity when Black Friday sales came on the scene you would remember that this is where the term ‘Doorbusters’ originated from. The retailers had so many instances of crowds like the Best Buy crowd I just described at so many of their big box locations that a few situations we’re bound to go south. In some less than well-organized areas, overly aggressive people busted through the doors and trampled others to be the one to get the severely limited ‘deal’. There was other types of violence in many locations, sadly some of which even resulted in death. People are emotional creatures who can lose themselves to the crowd mentality. I didn’t comprehend this at first but then I quickly realized that the deals were so good, that really it was more about making money. The first people in the store could buy the regularly priced $1500 big flat screen for $300 and then resell it for ½ of the going retail MSRP and still made hundreds of dollars for a few hours work. Hundreds of dollars can be very motivational to a particular segment of our economy. You’ve seen them before even if you live in genteel suburbia. It’s the same segment which shows up on the evening news for their fifteen minutes of fame describing how they got their bloody face while innocently waiting in the Black Friday line at the Wal-mart. They always describe getting knocked down by the crowds when trying to “just walk in” to get that new hard to find gaming console for their kid because they couldn’t find it anywhere else and this was their only chance.
These early scenes of chaos and commensurate liability forced the retailers to be a little bit more circumspect about how they managed the insane fervor they they try to create every year. Over the years it’s become more organized. Most deals are now guaranteed to be in stock for a certain period of time. The deals aren’t as obviously unrealistically low priced either. Retailers have even figured out how to create product that seems like an amazing deal but then turns out that it’s a special edition designed just for Black Friday with some under communicated limitations compared to the normal versions. Bobby Joe is usually too enamored with how big the flat screen is to realize it’s only got two ports on the back. For my own part I also got more savvy. I’d go to some other stores that would price match any advertised deal and get the black friday deal by bringing in the competitor ad. Sometimes my wife and I would research some of the better deals that weren’t so great to warrant door busting and i’d be given a list, usually heavy with christmas gifts for the kids and different styles of female boots. I’d go out mid-morning after the crowds had dissipated and pick up some stuff.
Things are a bit different today. Christmas Creep has taken hold so the sales spike on Black Friday is starting to dissipate. Not exactly surprising when you go into Walmart in mid October and see the first shelves with ornaments or the pallets of over-sized toys that start to appear in the center of every aisle. Black Friday is still the marque date, but there is “Black Friday Pricing” and “Pre Black Friday” sales events everywhere now. As I mentioned the actual Black Friday deals aren’t as intense anymore. There is also the long shadow of online retailing. Companies like Newegg.com are famous for operating with markups in the single digits. All of this works together to dissipate the Black Friday retail intensity that marked the first few years. But even with this newer and more restrained Black Friday euphoria, Black Friday is still important.
The importance of Black Friday as it relates to professionals.
The good of Black Friday is that it doesn’t just have an effect on John Q. Public, it has an effect on retailers. There is intense competition in the retail segment and that means that the retailers are putting their best foot, or in this case, prices forward. This means that even with all the moderating factors, Black Friday represents opportunity for the professional, especially the professional who’s playing financial defense. Time is limited and for the working professional the day after Thanksgiving is a rare reprieve. Even if you are traveling to your heart home for the holiday, the day after the holiday isn’t usually earmarked for anything family related, unless of course it’s an annual family shopping trip. That means Black Friday isn’t just about profit, it’s also a window of opportunity to get ahead with all the Christmas shopping requirements virtually demanded by our modern cultural norms.
We can’t forget that retailers are also savvy, very very savvy. Yes, there are still loss leaders to get you in the store or on the website, but never forget that retailing is a science as much as economics. Traffic flow, environmental factors, customer data manipulation are all tools in their toolbox. Because that’s the case you have to be aware of, and prepared for, attempts at retailer manipulation in overt and subtle ways.
Together, need for shopping, time for shopping, and manipulations while we are shopping all remind me of those nature shows where you see where vulnerable things get eaten. The shows always have something like baby turtles emerging from buried nests trying to avoid getting torn apart by the crabs and swallowed by seagulls on their way to the sea. Sometimes it’s the African water buffalo herd stopping to get a drink in the crocodile filled river. Chomp, Glug, and there goes another one. The predators are all around at our time of opportunity and need, but for professionals it’s not teeth we need to worry about, it’s the over priced options presented to us when the great deal is gone.
Who Should Take Advantage of Black Friday?
The only people who really should do it is the ones who have chosen Financial Defense as their life’s financial strategy. For them, leaving Thanksgiving day dinner early so you can sit in line all night to save $500 on your next TV or computer purchase or being glued to your computer to make sure you click right when the moment the super great online deal goes live is worth it. If your on financial offense as your life strategy, well you probably don’t have time to care about deals anyway, your too busy using the brute force tactic of career ascendence, which means that you are probably working all of Thanksgiving and even the day after Thanksgiving. Fortunately paying full retail isn’t usually a problem for the financially offensive player. It’s just another cost of doing business. That being said, you probably won’t get screwed on Black Friday so if the office is closed and nobody is responding to your emails, it may be worth it to get some of that shopping out of the way.
Rules for Black Friday Survival.
Rule number one: Avoid the Hype! I say this when I look at the non-professional set. You know, the ones I referenced earlier who are on the evening news for the three people who still watch local news, they are all in because they didn’t have enough personal discipline to avoid the Black Friday hype. They aren’t logical about their approach. They may have two perfectly good laptops at home but that $99 dell laptop that’s regularly $299 will still get purchased if they can snag one. I feel like this group has some kind of crazy hoarder gene in them. A good way to avoid the hype is to commit yourself to only get what you intend to get. Everything else is a no-go no matter if it’s online or if it’s in person which brings me to my second rule: Remember the Internet.
The second rule is to remember the internet because of retail disruption. This isn’t an article about the growth of retail websites and how those business are disrupting the age old retail sector, but this is happening. If you happen to have good internet, then yes, maybe staying indoors on your couch with a laptop or tablet is the better Black Friday shopping option. Why freeze your tail off standing in line if you can shop from home? The problem is that the online retailers are even more savvy than the brick and mortar organizations because they know more about you. They also structure the availability of the deals like a good programmer writes a video-game where the timings are designed to keep you in the game and nowhere else.
The third rule is to have a plan. This goes back to not buying anything that’s not on your list. Part of this plan includes research. Not just in ‘what’s for sale and where’ but how often does the product in question come down in price? How much are you actually saving and is the additional savings worth the time and effort? The answer is most likely a Yes if your saving $1000 on a high end television. It’s probably no if your only saving an extra $10 on a gaming console that’s available anywhere.
Don’t forget to research enough to really understand what your getting.
Point of note, when I say product, I mean exact product, not product category. As I mentioned earlier, one of the ways larger retailers get you is that they will have a product especially designed and manufactured for the Black Friday sale door-buster. The 65” flat-screen may say Sharp, but it could be a lower cost model from a sub contract manufacturer with lots of corners cut like features pulled to avoid paying the licensing fees. The price may be so low that the retailer is still taking a loss, but the deal may not be as good as originally portrayed. Don’t forget to make sure your checking the price against truly comparable products.
Ask yourself, even if it’s the best deal in the world, do you really need it? There is a big difference between need and wants*. This should be asked of any purchase by someone playing financial defense. In most cases the answer is a resounding no. Sometimes, you don’t technically need it but the benefit to your life may be so great it’s worth the investment. Do any of us really need a tablet computer? Technically no, but there really are some benefits to having a computer like consumption device that has many hours or even days of battery life on a single full charge.
The Final and Most Important Rule
The most important rule is to remember your end goal or goals. There is a limited amount of money and time in the world. Corporations are doing everything they can to pay as little as possible and get as much as possible, which is admirable from an operational standpoint and what their investors expect. This is also exactly what shoppers are trying to do with their Black Friday efforts. We can’t forget that Professionals have goals bigger than the biggest of TV’s that are: “at their lowest prices ever!!!”. The goal for the working professional varies, but they do exist. You can’t be a professional in the workforce without having developed goal setting abilities. So we have to look at the goals, the bigger goals, the longer term goals and ask the question: What’s your end goal and can your Black Friday efforts help you achieve it? For example, if you don’t have a nice television in your nice house and you or someone in your home really likes watching tv or playing video games then a goal to get a nice super discounted set seems reasonable to me. If you already have two 65” sets, do you really need a third one because now it has better color depth? It’s pretty much the same with every other product category out there. They just distract you from your goals.
What if your end goal is meeting the Christmas gift giving social needs? Will the Black Friday shopping spree help you meet that goal in the best way? Don’t forget the word ‘best’ can be used in different way. It can be best cost or most emotionally impactful.
In the end ‘retail therapy’ is a term that exists because it’s fun to shop. Getting something we like gives us a shot of Dopamine and Black Friday is the super bowl of retail therapy. Experts will remind you that you you don’t want to mix this up for Serotonin. Dopamine is a short term emotional high, Serotonin is based in the things that offer longer term happiness. Black Friday is a minefield of dopamine hits and if all you want is the short term high, then go get in line. If your looking for the longer term happiness, the bigger goals, well then I would really ask myself if I want to sit out Black Friday.
Sitting out Black Friday is a bit like paying off your debts. In the same way that if you don’t like living debt free you can always go right back into debt, with Black Friday If you find out you miss the craziness of it, you can always go back out again next year. Here’s the best part, you won’t miss out on anything because I can absolutely guarantee you will find “the lowest prices ever!!!” on whatever you didn’t get this year.
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