Store Wars

Written by: Kelli Fuqua Hart, Ocala Magazine’s Executive Editor

They line up in the cold, dark night. Many have bandaged fingertips – the result of hours of coupon clipping and page turning. They have a precise plan, their strategy of war against other consumers. They will get that television. They will score that playhouse. They will conquer this madness we call Black Friday. But what is it, really?

One of, if not the most important shopping day of the year, Black Friday allegedly began in the City of Brotherly Love. When people from the suburbs would stampede into the city for shopping, police officers were forced to work 12-hour shifts or longer and coined the term. In 1961, there was a push to try and rename it “Big Friday,” but the idea never did catch on.

Other stories of how Black Friday was created is based on a tale of retailers, when realizing profits soared when holiday shopping began, would be told by their accountants that their numbers were “in the black,” as opposed to the red ink their ledgers had seen between January and November as a result of loss.

Regardless of where it came from, how or why, Black Friday is real. It’s become a tradition for many anxious holiday shoppers – and savers. It has also become controversial as many people, consumers and strategists alike, doubt the validity of what is really being offered.

Many families have made Black Friday a part of their holiday festivities. The idea of finishing up a turkey dinner and then switching gears to lawn chairs outside of Best Buy until 2am has simply become a tradition as much as has the infamous Elf on the Shelf. For others, however, slaying Black Friday has become a matter of the mind. Consumer Psychologists have explained that “… the allure of a bargain speaks to human nature.” This limited amount or limited-time-only offer ploy creates an “innate fear of scarcity” that causes people to buy and buy now! There truly is a psychology behind the thrill of getting a deal. But what deals are we really getting on Black Friday?

It is no secret retailers will pull out all the stops, depending on the irrationality of consumers. From opening at midnight to enticing shoppers with baked goods and freebies, store owners know once shoppers come through that door it’s likely they will leave with something – sometimes, anything.

Yes, people will make a purchase just to make a purchase. After all, standing in a line for hours would be a waste only to come home empty-handed. Does this mean consumers will spend money even if they weren’t able to score the item that lured them in? Absolutely. Here is a common scenario.

Laura sees an ad for a television that reflects a 30-percent savings – not shabby. Laura could use a new television because after all, who doesn’t need a new TV if it can be scored for less? The ad says there are a limited number of these advertised televisions, but Laura is a hunter – a gatherer. She will get there and she will get her hands on one of those TVs. She waits. When the doors finally open and the crowd of anxious shoppers flood in, she goes into fight mode, searching for her prize. Alas she finds where the TV she needed should have been, but to her disappointment, they have all been taken. She turns to leave, but look! DVDs are on sale. Bedding is 10-percent off. Kitchen appliances are “No Interest until May of 2018” and she’s always though cooking sounded fun. Laura gathers her must-haves and cashes out. Four-hundred and some odd dollars later, not including what she “scored” using credit, Laura returns home. She might not have that new television, but she’s feeling pretty good having “saved” so much money today – really getting one over on corporate America. Silly Laura?

Do we blame retailers for sometimes pulling the old bait and switch? For offering such great, once in a lifetime deals but only in an extremely limited supply – often only in very limited locations that were listed in the tiniest of fine print? Do we blame the Lauras? Do we blame anyone at all?

“If both businesses and shoppers can benefit from Black Friday I don’t see any problem with it,” explains Melinda Forrentino, a local Black Friday consumer and, self proclaimed, professional. Forrentino is among those who map out their plan of retail attack and zig zag all over town to take advantage of major sales and rebates. Last year she totaled over $530 in savings, scoring a deluxe coffee system, electric toothbrush and a television set for her bedroom – none of which were purchased as gifts. Are we really saving money when what we are buying are wants rather than needs – in this case, gifts for self? This brings up another curiosity. Are purchases for self what Black Friday is really about? 

What began as an opportunity to save on holiday gifts, Black Friday is now an equal opportunity for consumers to save on their own Christmas wishes. With men leading the pack, 51-percent of those in the midst of the friday frenzy are buying for themselves. The idea that Black Friday is a way to save on holiday expenditures – the to-buy-for people on the list – is fading to, well, black. Over half of shoppers are looking for deals on the things they need or want. What does this mean for business? 

One local business owner gave it to me straight in trade for total anonymity. “The truth is,” he began, “business owners don’t care what you buy, who it’s for or what you do with it once it leaves the store. We care about money and we want to make loads of it on Black Friday.” The perspective from this owner got a tad more transparent as he continued, “We depend on the people who don’t really do the math – the ones who see a big, juicy number and don’t factor in interest or limited supply or the fact we literally lure them in with unrealistic offers in hopes they then spend unreasonable amounts of money on other things once inside. I’d say it works over 75-percent of the time.”

In fact, it has worked so well and increased momentum over the years, many big businesses have started opening the doors to crazed consumers beginning as early as Thanksgiving Day! Stores like Macy’s, Rite Aid, Walmart, Best Buy, Toys R Us, Target, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Kmart, Lowe’s and many others will begin their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, some as early as 6am. As a result, thousands upon thousands of store clerks will not be able to spend their day with family, giving thanks, but rather scanning barcodes and chumming rebates to appearingly greedy consumers.

This new Thanksgiving Day trend has stirred up more of a storm than has Black Friday BOGOs. People have taken to social media and other public resources to voice their disdain for forcing employees to work over creating memories with loved ones. Corporate tycoons argue, “No one is forcing anyone to do anything. They have a choice to work or find another job.” Ouch.

Many consumers are choosing to boycott any store that opens Thanksgiving Day, not just on Thursday, but 365 days a year. As a result, some businesses see the damage that opening before midnight is doing and have made a vow to keep their doors closed until 12 am. Social media groups such as Boycott Black Thursday on facebook are hitting the internet by storm, hundreds of thousands of potential consumers encouraging and promoting only the support of those businesses, such as DSW, Publix, Pier 1 Imports, Bed Bath & Beyond and Dillard’s, who refuse to open early. Recreational Equipment, Inc. vows to not only stay closed on Thanksgiving, they have decided to stay closed on Black Friday, even agreeing to pay their employees for a full days work so “employees who need the money aren’t hurt in the process.” Take that, consumerism!

J. Smith pulled a double shift last Thanksgiving when our local Kmart decided to open its doors to impatient Black Friday shoppers at 6am on Thursday. “My family enjoyed dinner without me,” Smith explains. “My 87-year old mother was celebrating what, thank God, wasn’t her last holiday but could have been. Family members from Virginia that I had not seen in 8 years were visiting and where was I? I was providing change and bagging goods for people who, to be honest, impatient, ungrateful and rude. Opening our doors and sacrificing our holiday for them didn’t matter one bit. But I’m sure it mattered to corporate who made millions and certainly didn’t have their asses behind a register on their Thanksgiving Day!”

On Black Friday, some will win, while others will lose. Companies that open their doors are bound to make a profit. Consumers who budget and research the real deals are bound to save some moola. Both will likely come home with some interesting tale of a brawl or bulldoze. But let us all consider what is guaranteed on Black Friday.

It takes employees to operate these storewide savings so be courteous. Yes they have chosen, or resorted in some cases, to work retail but that doesn’t give anyone permission to take them or their time for granted. Likewise, be respectful of other consumers. Yes, many will come in like a literal wrecking ball, pushing and shoving, but a Macy’s Day Mugshot is not worth it. Finally, consider supporting your local businesses. Can a mom and pop offer the same savings as can a Target or Lowe’s? Probably not. But, they are open and they are offering discounts and the money you spend with them helps a local person thrive. It keeps the money in our backyard, feeding our local families, keeping our economy healthy. When you buy local, you can’t lose.

So, to all the change-chasers, roll-back renegades and soldiers of savings, may the force and interest-free financing be with you!

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