Tuesday, December 02, 2008

In Defense of Black Friday

I had no idea there are people out there who feel so strongly about Black Friday that they propose outlawing it, until I came across Phoebe's post (last bullet point). But Black Friday doesn't have to be about Wal-Mart (how come no one ever fusses about Target even though they are anti-union and lock you in their giant box store if you work overnight?), flat screen TVs (most on sale tend to be crimes against humanity anyway--what business does a light bulb company have making them?), being a part of a mob, or fighting over toys. As trite as it sounds, I think Black Friday is whatever you make of it. Some people abstain, some line up, some look at the line and end up at White Castle, some shop online, and some go in the afternoon when the Target and Best Buy parking lots are not as bad as they are on any given Sunday afternoon.

I'm guessing that those who are so appalled by Black Friday are horrified by the Wal-Mart story from Long Island (don't act like I don't know you, Nassau County!), or the Toys "R" Us (I wish I could type the backwards "R") incident in L.A., and by the general mobbish chaos displayed in news photos and video footage. This is a legitimate reason to be wary of Black Friday, and I sympathize with this concern. I've never seen Black Friday on bad behavior, but I witnessed some tragic human beings at the H&M x Comme des Garcons opening. No one was trampled or hurt, but in many ways it was traumatizing: when I left H&M that morning, I had to adjust back to reality. Outside of H&M, I kept remarking to myself how there weren't a million people in a small space, no overtly nasty people, no shoving or pushing, no running or jogging after clothes, and no hawkish monitoring of people bringing back clothes from dressing rooms. Every person I talked to afterwards, I wanted to say to them, "I saw H&M x CdG! It was nuts! Let me tell you about it!" but I figured that hardly anyone in the philosophy department knows what Comme des Garcons is, nor would care that they released a collaboration line at cheap-o H&M. Anyway, I imagine this is the kind of "being moved" that one might feel about Black Friday.

But that doesn't mean that Black Friday needs to be banned or regulated. The problem isn't about the retailers and the products for sale so much as it is about irrational people. So consumerism isn't the issue, it's what people let it do to them. Of course, not everyone will be lovely at "doorbuster" sales, so some basic assistance from the retailers will be necessary to calm these "special" people down. See Niketown or St. Alfred when they have popular shoe releases, and Target for Wii when it was harder to get. In these successful cases, retailers help consumers stay sane: they honor the line and let only a certain number of people in at a time. But this is merely a matter of organization and minimizing high population density. The real issue isn't about businesses or governments drawing the line between wanty and greedy, but about people determining where this line is drawn within themselves.


Joseph said...

speaking from a (former) target perspective
i didnt mind black friday
since it comes after a day of store closure
which meant wednesday night we could just leave all the crap out on the sales floor and worry about it the next day
and time and half after midnight and again when we came in at 10pm the next night
and then no autofill pulls

im not sure if the lockdown occurs at all targets
but the company line on that was that it was for our safety
we were told someone in another store in our district once had a domestic incident involving cops while on break outside
which sounds just reasonable enough to probably be a complete fabrication
regardless in the end i had cool team leads/execs who didnt care if i went to steaknshake whenever i had to go to the offsite warehouse

just read that slate article
is that 2% gain they cite for walmart just for one day or the entire year?
i believe on black fridays my store would gross at least 500k in sales when a normal holiday friday would be around 120-150k
so from a corporate perspective ill take quadruple the sales for 3 more hours of scheduling
i highly doubt that any company loses money on anything even with reduced prices
cutting profit margins yes but losing money?
maybe in the case of the superbigticket items that a store has say less than 5 of
but then they get at least 20 times that amount people to stand in line with hope that one might fall to them and they'll end up buying something regardless to justify their multi-hour wait

maybe im just psycho-sentimental as they put it

how did target handle the purchase of the wii?
i know on release they gave out tickets
and once they were out told people that was it
(easier to do with limited stock of only one item)
so people who wouldn't have gotten it took their frantic search elsewhere
and my overnight exec did not communicate the deal i made with him to come in an extra night in exchange for the ability to purchase a wii to the exec handling its sale
which would later help grant me free warehouse/steaknshake as retribution
did h&m have any staff outside before store opening?
in general though i would classify your examples as niche ones
at the very least i would think the scale of black friday is several times larger than retro jordan force one 360 #313987
can i say that? maybe not since there were at least 100 people out there for the grape vs/one time onlys i think

Joseph said...

retribution was a poor word choice there

kei said...

The experiences I've had are particular, I thought about that. But I still think there should be a point to lines, regardless of the store or total number of people. There were H&M employees checking up on the line, but once the doors open it's all up in the air. Anyone walking by or hanging around the entrance can just swoop in before people (like the 12 year old blogger, well behind me) who had been lined up for hours even enter the store.

But basically, my point is that retailer regulation on customers is the only real regulation you can ask for and will amount to something. I hate it when vague things like "society," "consumerism," or forms of media for instance, get blamed for problems that really just stem from people.

kei said...

Also let me be the first to point out explicitly that you write comments and I think emails the way the Japanese write emails and text messages. The key characteristics are one idea in one line and minimal to no punctuation. I'm assuming you aren't influenced by Japanese emails and texts, so if it is in fact pure coincidence, that's pretty cool.

Joseph said...

you know i dont write emails

punctuations a bitch
and the impetus for my comment format was my failing handle on grammar rules
line returns at new sentence/some prepositional phrases i think were a natural extension of that to prevent walls of text

not capitalizing things at all is a way for me to remain consistent with the above
and if theres one thing i like its consistency
if im not going to mess with periods
then i may as well ignore the shift key as well

i see your point now with the lines
i guess i assumed that lines are mostly self-regulated
but obviously not in your h&m example
and probably something that slate article was referring to
that i chose to selectively ignore
on black friday though i imagine you can get peasant line enforcers to work for a guarantee of their place in line and several cups of hot chocolate

your view of retailer regulation is one that is self managed?
because until they lose a lawsuit for millions of dollars
i see no change originating from them in regards to the largest retail day of the year

Phoebe said...

It's interesting that the Marathon, which also leads to unnecessary crowds and unnecessary deaths, is universally praised. It doesn't detract from the Long Island tragedy to say that those who see it as a "metaphor" (so said a journalist on the Slate podcast I listened to on the subway this morning) for all that's wrong with our society might be going overboard. Going into debt=bad. But choosing $3 H&M earrings over a book of the same price? I think the horror is ultimately less about the death than about a belief that those who like to shop (for certain goods deemed low-class) are bad people, whether or not they were involved in the Walmart tragedy.

kei said...

Joe: _I_ don't expect or advocate any actual changes with Black Friday. Other people seem to hate Black Friday to the extent that they think it should be regulated, and I'm responding, just saying that the only real regulation one can expect is for store employees to try to calm special people down, or security to prevent tramplings if there are a million people out there waiting to get in. Something along those lines.

Phoebe: I've thought about consumerism in Japan, and I think that overall, it's not viewed as sinful there, or called "materialism," as often as it is here. It's just sort of a natural part of life. We live in a modern society, we have some spending money, and we see things we like. If we can afford it, we buy it. Some people buy smart, some people don't. But for the most part, everyone has fun. End of story! No metaphors, no symbols. You find societal issues within people, not Takashimaya.

Phoebe said...

This, along with the apparent omnipresence of miniature dachshunds, is making me seriously consider moving to Japan.