Keep a Friend Home on Black Friday

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I can all but guarantee that someone you know and care about is planning to go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. You need to intervene.

Black Friday is a contrived, customer-hostile, bait-and-switch, potentially deadly symptom of what’s wrong with bricks and mortar retailing. A handful of grotesquely low prices on a smaller handful of products are advertised as "doorbusters," and we’ve been subjected to years’ worth of propaganda intended to associate the day with shopping deals, however imaginary. 

With inventories somewhat leaner this year versus last, there’s also the implicit suggestion that if you don’t run out and buy something, you might not be able to find it later on…so go ahead and buy that marginally discounted TV when the three that were on sale are nowhere to be found.

The necessity of shopping this Friday is wholly the creation of retailers who choose to abandon any other reason to compel a visit, provide a pleasant in-store experience, or associate any value to the store brand other than perhaps the hint that there are deals to be had if and when the stores dole them out.

Yet crowds will dutifully start lining up at their favorite stores tomorrow long before the sun rises. TV journalists will broadcast from shopping malls with faux insightful comments about "consumer sentiment" and other aspects of the commercial community in which we all belong, though none of us claim membership. An unofficial legion of shoppers will tweet from the front-lines, narrating which store deal is ripe for exploitation. Next Monday’s headlines will declare that the entire holiday selling season will be big or a bust.

Who are the numbnuts getting manipulated by the stores?

They’re our families, friends, and neighbors. David Ogilvy once said "the consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife," only if your loved one or friend can’t resist the Pavlovian command to shop on Back Friday then the "moron" label is a compliment.

The retailers are morons, too, because they keep doing it year after year, though I guess you can’t fault them for repeating something that regularly proves to be somewhat effective. Every item that gets purchased by a customer is one less item gathering dust on a store shelf. Sales on Black Friday are guaranteed to be better than sales on a Friday of any other color. Registering transactions now, however they’re delivered and at what ultimate cost, is a better business strategy than waiting for them to magically appear as we get closer to Christmas. Folks lining up in the dark outside Walmart aren’t shopping online (unless they have their smartphones with them).

So who cares what it’ll do to the retail brand next month, or next year? Without comp store sales this year, there may be no tomorrow.

I say this logic is utterly flawed. Black Friday is moronic for everyone involved because it represents a collective effort to destroy retail, and here’s how:

  • Retailers strip away every pretense of authenticity and credibility to their brands by so bluntly detaching pricing from product and purchasing value; doorbuster offers are no different than the promise of winning the lottery.
  • Consumers subject themselves to the most crowded, competitive, unpleasant, and more than likely unsatisfying shopping experiences possible; bricks and mortar stores couldn’t do a better job of promoting online shopping if they tried.

Both retailers and shoppers are somewhat co-dependent in this dance, even if sellers have to work harder each year to try at hit their sales goals just as buyers have to work harder to find what they want to buy. Internet retailers have been inspired to copy the practice with their own day dedicated to shopping, which makes absolutely no sense if you think about it. However successful these events will be this year, next year’s will be more of a fight to simply match them.

This is the market at work, friends, and the collaborative malaise known as Black Friday will continue until somebody yells stop.

Is that somebody you?

Imagine if each of us sought out a person we know is going to humiliate him or herself on Black Friday; you know, somebody who is already plotting out which stores to hit, what times, how much they want to spend, etc. Be a friend and keep them away from the stores. Go to a movie. Start an art project. Walk the dog (a lot). Do anything other than shop.

Staying home on Black Friday would tell the retailers that we want more from bricks and mortar shopping experiences:

  • They should be better than trolling web sites in our underwear at home, and that means strategies other than getting the most of us in stores at the same time to battle over merchandise
  • We are willing to see value in retail brands beyond price, but that we expect more creativity from retailers in hopes of delivering it
  • We want respect from them, not manipulation, which would start by stopping prompts like doorbuster sales and other ruses to get shoppers out of bed at 4 am to buy toys.

Our friends who are Black Friday shopaholics can’t grasp this, for now, so don’t try to rationalize it. Just keep them home. 

They’re helping ruin retail for the rest of us.

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