Black Friday and Society's Addiction to the Deal
The shopping event of the year is rooted in our desire as a culture to win above all else
NOTE: Thank you for reading Ozone Letter. If you are subscribed you will notice that this is my first post in nearly a month. I want to truly apologize for this as I have been struggling with inspiration and re-defining my writing process. I strive to deliver at least one piece to you per week and I have failed. I am truly sorry for this and look to become more consistent in the future. Thank you for your continued support of my work.
The holidays are a special time of the year. There is a certain atmosphere about November and December where so many people are in the giving mood. That atmosphere is a little bit different if you happen to work in a retail environment, particularly a big box retail environment. The holidays mean holiday shoppers and specifically the insanity that comes with them.
As the sort of kick-off day for the holiday shopping season, Black Friday has come to be looked at as more of a holiday than the day that precedes it: Thanksgiving. For years people have been lining up and filing into stores for the best deals of the year. It is a day rooted in capitalism that highlights American culture and its obsession with a great deal.
The Significance of Black Friday
The term Black Friday has been in use in the United States since 1966. While many have assumed the name signifies retailers reclaiming some profitability or “going in the black”, the term was coined by Philadelphia police officers. These officers named the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday as it was the kick-off of the Christmas shopping season leading to traffic jams in the city’s center.
Fast forward to today, Black Friday is synonymous with holiday shopping and has become a holiday in its own right to many people. Lines of people waiting to get into big-box retailers for the best deal of the season is the norm. In my years of working in big-box retail as both an employee and a vendor partner, Black Friday planning was the entire basis of a store’s holiday strategy. There are meetings and floor plan maps of how to handle the crowds, extra shelving is brought in and boxes of products litter the sales floor. To those that work in retail, there is no bigger day.
From a consumer perspective, Black Friday sales can easily feel like a dream. Huge TVs for $300 or less, huge discounts on laptops and kitchen appliances, and so on. Having worked in these environments I have learned that there are two types of products that go on sale on Black Friday. The first is a logical one: products from the previous year that are still excellent but ones that the retailer and manufacturer are looking to get rid of. The second is more interesting: iterations of a product that are made specifically for Black Friday. In my time as a computer sales representative, I saw this happen where laptops with a spec sheet from a few years ago would arrive for blowout Black Friday sales. Both of these sales tactics accomplish the same goal: drive customer excitement and get them in the door.
The Addiction to the Deal
No one likes to feel that they were ripped off on a purchase. There is a sense of pride for most people that they got a “good deal”. It is this desire to be a savvy shopper that makes Black Friday so successful. The price points are appealing and speak to sensibilities that we cannot control. Let’s take TVs as an example since they are some of the most popular purchases on Black Friday.
If you know that most current 4K Smart TVs at a certain size usually cost $600 and you see a Black Friday ad for a 4K Smart TV at that same size for $300, there is a decent chance that you are intrigued by this. The sheer fact that the deal is so drastic would make anyone raise an eyebrow and want to learn more. And because the general buying public has been trained to look for a few key specs (4K and screen size in this case) it is rather easy to offload a relatively antiquated device to the masses.
This speaks to the inherent need of people to feel that they have won. The need to feel this victory is why extreme couponers exist, to feel that they have outsmarted the retail system that methodically takes money away from them. There is a joke about people from the midwest that when they are complimented on a possession they will often brag about the deal they got to purchase said item. There is a pride that people have in letting others know that they did not get ripped off, that they are smart and savvy shoppers.
There is an irony that Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, as problematic as its origin is, is ultimately about gratitude. A holiday to be grateful and “give thanks” to everything you have and the people that are in your life. This is followed by a day of retail bustle to feel that there is victory over the massive retail industry, that the consumer has outsmarted the machine. To the people that feel this way, Black Friday is intoxicating. And it is this intoxication that fully paints the picture of modern society and its addiction to the idea of a deal. It is this same intoxication that will ensure that Black Friday is always successful and a calendar event. Simply because we as a people cannot help it, we are wired to be addicted to this particular drug.