In my local paper yesterday, there was a photo of someone camped out, with a tent, in front of a nearby chain electronics store. It was snowing in the picture, and the store was open for business, but apparently it’s never too early, or too cold, to line up for a holiday sales event.
Like many chain stores, this one was open on Thanksgiving Day. I glanced at the pictures of the shoppers outside at the snowy outlet center in today’s paper, and at photos of the shoppers inside the electronics store hunting down their elusive bargains. Skimming over the accompanying article, one quote caught my eye. It was from a man who said that he came for the deals, but that he’d rather be home because he has a young daughter, and she doesn’t understand that he’s trying to get a ‘good deal’.
And she should not have to understand – the best bargain he can give his daughter is to spend time with her – not stay away for hours to acquire some gadget at a reduced cost. When we add in the time, and energy, spent at the store, the fuel spent getting to the store, and the incalculable cost of not spending a holiday, one for which we are supposed to reflect on our own good fortunes, with our families – is that ‘good deal’ really worth it? Yet, even as he said that he would rather be home, he made the choice to be where he was. And yes, I’m assuming, because he was self-aware enough to have made that statement, that there would have been a semblance of quality time had he stayed home.
I’m not a shopper – hate it in fact, so to be honest getting me out to a store when there are bound to be hordes of shoppers would take – well, I’m not sure there’s a big enough bargain out there. So these very persistent shoppers are alien lifeforms to me. Don’t get it, never will. Personal prejudices about shopping aside, though, I have to ask how did we, as a culture, got to the point where consumerism, and it’s cousin, greed, rule the day?
I have many, many concerns about the increasing corporatization in this country, but I don’t think I can blame the chains, or the malls, themselves for deciding to open. They are on a perpetual quest for more profits to satisfy investors who are demanding increasing revenues, and lower expenses. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows how painfully true that is. And there are consumers out there that have certainly demonstrated that they are willing to spend large amounts of money, even on a holiday. Many of the biggest spenders at the outlet center are travelers from outside of the country. Certainly they see the closings as an inconvenience when the holidays are not theirs. So the outlet center, unsurprisingly, chooses to not only open, but to fine the stores that delay their own opening until Thursday night – why one earth are midnight sales a thing?
And I wonder how many of those shoppers yesterday also criticized the retailers for opening in the first place – because irony is lost on most of us when our own behavior is involved.
Oh I’m not one who longs for the ‘good old days’, either. Many things may have been better – the amount of time I spent outside as a kid, for one – but many other things were not better. There is always a flip side with nostalgia. No, I emphatically do not want to turn the clocks back to my boomer youth (but I recall my mother saying in the mid-60’s that even without blue laws, Sears would never open on Sundays. She was very wrong.)
And what is it about human nature that makes us think anything called bargain is better than anything sold at a reasonable price? We coupon our way into buying 4 boxes of tissues because we can get 50 cents off of the total purchase. When JC Penney attempted to do away with coupons & flash sales by lowering their overall prices, their remaining customers fled in droves. Retailers of all types inflate their prices, so that they can call it a sale, make the customer think they are getting a deal, and still make a healthy profit. It is this business model, fueled by greed, and fed by misguided consumers, that has led to Black Friday to creep further into Thanksgiving day over the past few years to actually being on Thanksgiving Day. There were outlet shoppers, according to the newspaper that were disappointed that the stores opened at their normal times on Thursday. Perhaps next year they can push the stores to open even earlier so that shoppers can get an even earlier start?