Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday - Good Deals or Hype? (Hype).

Black Friday pulled in a record $6.22 billion in online sales: Adobe
Are there really "good deals" to be had this way?  Maybe not.

As I noted in my Demilitarizing Christmas Posting, the entire concept of the Christmas Holidays has been hijacked by commercial interests. I will leave it to the religious sorts to make the faith arguments. I am only concerned here with the financial ones.

As I have noted before, following the herd of cattle to the slaughterhouse, the lemmings over the cliff, or the sheep to the butcher, is never a sound idea. Doing what everyone else is doing is sometimes a good idea - but more often than not is fraught with peril. When someone says (figuratively) "Hey everybody, let's all do THIS!" then you should probably think about quietly slipping away.

Nowhere is this more true that with the media's hyped stories about "Black Friday."  Today, they interviewed a doe-eyed mouth-breather at some chain store about the "incredible bargains" on "Black Friday."  The mouth-breather in question had waited up all night to be first in line to buy a small flat-screen television for an apparently bargain price. The interesting thing was that the television was not a purchase as a gift, but for himself. And the price mentioned by the interviewer did not seem to me to be all that great.

As other media outlets have noted, many of the "Black Friday Bargains" are limited to a few items per store. Thus, they are usually sold out by 6 AM when the stores open (or earlier, more on that later) and when you arrive at 9 AM there are no bargains to be had. Also, many of these "bargain" items, particularly in electronics, are stripped-down versions or specially made units that may not have the quality, resolution, or features that the regular unit has.

Being herded and stampeded into buying something on the premise that "the price is only good for today" is never a good idea.  If someone can get you to impulse-buy, without thinking too carefully, they can pull a fast one on you.

Here's a clue: consumer electronics, historically, have dropped in price from year to year, as the cost of production drops, manufacturing efficiencies are implemented, and more competition drives down prices. If you wait a week or two - or a month, or a year - to make a purchase on a television, stereo, computer, or whatever, chances are the price will be about the same, if not lower. There is no incentive or imperative to "buy now" in this segment of the market.

The other humorous part of the "Black Friday" story was when the interviewer asked the mouth-breather whether he had thought about buying any of the $3 small appliances being offered this year (toasters, crock pots, coffee makers, etc.). He replied, "Maybe I'll get one for my Mom".

Here you are Mom, Merry Christmas. Here's a cheap-ass toaster. Enjoy.

$3 or not, if you don't need a new toaster or crock pot, why buy one? And how well made do you think such appliances are? Is this something you will have for many years, or will it be clogging some landfill before the year is out?  As even Wal-Mart is learning, people really don't want things that are so cheap that they are broken before you leave the parking lot.

And even at "bargain" prices, the average Christmas shopper ends up putting all this stuff on a credit card, which, thanks to the miracle of revolving Interest, means that they will pay for the purchase two or three times over.

I alluded to earlier that many stores are opening earlier and earlier on "Black Friday."  Many are open at midnight. This year, many cut to the chase and opened on Thanksgiving (why not? There is little else to do that day other than watch football). People camp out overnight to snap up the five or less "bargain" flat screen televisions offered at the local Wal-Mart or whatever.

As was widely publicized, last year, a temporary worker was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart on "Black Friday" as eager shoppers tried to snap up the alleged bargains the minute the store doors opened. One can only imagine what Christmas is like for that young man's family since then. The idea that someone should get killed over a flat-screen television is appalling enough, but when placed in the context of the season, doubly so.   Jesus would be pissed.

The incident, and many similar to it, serve to illustrate how sick our society has become and how sick the media has been, to hype and promote this sort of "group think". As I noted in the beginning of the article, when someone (particularly in the media) says "Hey, Everybody, let's all do THIS!" chances are whatever it is they are hyping is really a sour deal.

If the idea of fighting crowds on the second-busiest shopping day of the year strikes you as a good time, go for it.  But don't kid yourself that you are snapping up any "bargains."  And as I noted in my Demilitarizing Christmas Posting, buying people expensive and/or useless gifts because the media (and commercial interests) say you should, is a pretty dumb idea.

Gift giving comes from the heart and should be spontaneous and fun. "Exchanging" gifts and carefully evaluating their worth is not gift-giving but a very lame form of involuntary bartering.

I already have a toaster and coffee maker, thanks. And if I need a $3 crock pot, I know where to get one. If you want to bring me a gift, bring a bottle of wine and help me drink it.   Otherwise, don't feel obligated to buy me anything.   And I won't feel obligated to buy you anything either.

And together, we'll stick it to the Christmas Industry and the minions who hype it.

Have a really Merry Christmas, not a stressful shopping spree!