In my family, tradition was always important, especially around the holidays. Every year at Thanksgiving, part of the fun was doing the exact same things we did every year before. We would watch the Lions play…poorly. Turkey, stuffing out of the box, separate stove-top stuffing for my vegetarian sister, all capped off by pumpkin pie topped with cream we whipped ourselves and flavored with a dash of Kahlua (this is very good and everyone should try it).
Our Thanksgiving traditions, though, didn’t end at midnight. We had one more tradition that we jealously guarded: no one left the house on Black Friday. Every year, we would watch, dumbfounded, at the people who opted to venture forth into the black, freezing cold morning to line up outside a store waiting for them to open so they could fight crowds to snatch a DVD player for $200 (editor’s note: this was 20ish years ago). Nothing short of a medical emergency (this was a “if the bleeding is not of a pulsing, arterial nature, you’re fine” situation) would make us venture forth into that insanity. For us, Black Friday was a day to enjoy by, well, doing next to nothing.
Now, I understand that it’s different strokes for different folks and, for some, getting a great deal on an Apple (AAPL) iPad is exactly how they enjoy spending their time. But then, that’s also true for cock fighting, so I think we can all agree that there’s a line to be drawn somewhere. I think it’s time for us to start thinking seriously about how we can lay this utterly insane tradition to bed for good, and I would argue that we’re as close to making this a reality as we’ve ever been.
So, leisure fans of America unite, you have nothing to lose but your discount televisions.
The Online Revolution that Isn’t
Some of you, at this point, may be scratching your heads. “Joel,” you’re saying, “if we’re really this close to ending Black Friday, why is it that every year more stores are opening earlier or on Thanksgiving?” Or, if you’re a bit younger, “Mother of God, $200 for a DVD player used to be a ‘deal?!’”
This is true, since my days of quiet Thanksgivings at home in Michigan, Black Friday has become an even bigger cultural phenomenon. However, I do not see this as strength. I see it as desperation. Amazon (AMZN) and other online retailers are en route to destroying the box store economy that has thrived for the last three (or so) decades, and the current effort to keep expanding Black Friday into Black Four-Day Weekend is more of a death rattle than anything.
Granted, this is an ongoing phenomenon that has yet to come fully to fruition. Physical retail stores are still doing a LOT more business than their online counterparts. The trends, however, are pretty clear. Without digging too deep into the numbers, it’s safe to say that online retail is clearly on a track to fully eclipse in-store sales within the lifetime of almost anyone who can’t remember Woodstock for reasons that aren’t chemical if not much sooner.
What I’m calling for now is a decision on our part, as consumers, to provide that extra nudge needed to push this revolution along by not going shopping on Black Friday.
At this point, expanding Black Friday is one way that retail outlets are trying to expand the most important time of the year for their bottom line. As revenue, profits, and share prices continue to slowly erode for these companies, the lucrative fourth quarter becomes more and more important. As such, ringing up a huge Black Friday is increasingly essential to their survival. These stores don’t just want to make more money this weekend, they NEED to make more money this weekend.
So why don’t we collectively help ease the passage of the box stores? If we all decided to stay home on Black Friday, turning to Amazon and other online retailers, we could act as consumers to gently, humanely, press that hospital pillow down firmly onto the face of our old retail culture and speed along our marriage to the new, younger retail culture springing up in its place.
Not to mention, we could stay home on Friday.
Give the Wal-Mart (WMT) Staff Something to be Thankful For…
It isn’t just about the inevitable shift of our economy, though. There’s plenty of other reasons why this pseudo-holiday isn’t really doing any of us any favors.
Every year, retail workers everywhere reiterate just how much it sucks that they have to cut short their Thanksgiving holiday so that they can spend most of the weekend at work. That’s a situation we’re collectively creating and contributing to when we continue to give retailers reasons to believe opening earlier will help them tally more sales. A Black Friday boycott helps send the message that the bad PR and destroyed goodwill with their employees just isn’t worth it.
For that matter, isn’t it maybe time to ask whether the value in those big sales is real in the long run? Take that $200 DVD player from my childhood. Manufacturers were producing superior models that could be had for $30 within a few years. God forbid you waited in line to get that state-of-the-art computer at any point in the 1990s, too, as it was obsolete by spring. And those flat-screen TVs everyone’s been scrambling for the last few years? Well, you can still get a pretty great TV if you buy models from a few years ago that will run you a few hundred bucks. Basically, most of the stuff getting put on sale is usually of rapidly depreciating value.
You Say Mashed Po-ta-to, I Say Mashed Po-tah-to…
Push comes to shove, a lot of people are going to ignore me on this. As they should. If you really enjoy going shopping on Black Friday, you should keep doing so. Plus, having my ideas on culture rejected is pretty much par for the course at this point.
I’m talking to the rest of you. Those of you who HATE shopping on Black Friday but wind up doing it anyway, seriously consider making this the year that you stop. If the sane among us actually stop showing up outside these stores every year, we can use our power as consumers to help mitigate this particular tradition. We can push back against the encroachment on the Thanksgiving holiday and help online retailers but their brick-and-mortar counterparts out of their misery for good.
More than anything else, we can all do what I’ve been doing every Black Friday for as long as I can remember: sleep in.
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