Opinion Columns & Blogs

Bruce Maiman: Perhaps we should call it ‘Baffling Friday’

I just don’t get the whole Black Friday thing. Only in America do we give thanks for everything we have the day before we trample each other for stuff we probably don’t need.

They keep telling us it’s good for retailers, that it’s the busiest shopping day of the year. Not true. The busier days tend to be the Saturdays in December, and the Sunday and Monday before Christmas. Retailers will get their money.

Of course, for guys, the biggest shopping day of the year happens right around 8:30 on Christmas Eve. That Chia Pet starts lookin’ pretty good right about then.

Last year, the website Buzzfeed posted a photo quiz: “Black Friday or Riot?” Well, why not? Two years ago, a woman at a Los Angeles-area Walmart actually pepper-sprayed the crowd to keep fellow shoppers at bay. Authorities called it a “competitive shopping incident.”

Last year, two people were shot outside a Walmart in Tallahassee over a parking space. The victims recovered but apparently, even cars get to stand their ground in Florida.

In Springfield, Mass., a man left his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son in a car while he shopped on Black Friday, then went home with his new 51-inch flat screen television, leaving the toddler behind.

Police found the kid sleeping in the car. No word on how the man managed to lug the TV home without the car he drove to the store. Hmmm, 32-inch kid or 51-inch TV? At least you can turn off a TV.

In Tampa, shoppers started camping outside a Best Buy last weekend, pitching tents, eating fast food, spending the overnight hours playing touch football in the parking lot.

“There’s always something to get,” said one shopper.

Might I suggest getting your head examined?

Do people value their time so little? Let’s see, I could get my kid Skylander Swapforce for $80 or stand in line for 100 hours and get one for $60. “Sorry, buddy, daddy can’t eat Thanksgiving dinner with you. I’m in line, freezing my butt off to get you some toy you won’t play with in another month.”

Actually, it has a psychology. Scientific research has found that people drawn to Black Friday experience a hormonal release that makes them feel good during the stampede. It’s called “hedonic shopping value.”

Simply put, Black Friday shoppers enjoy getting something that’s harder to get.

“Yep, pulled this here $9 coffee grinder out from under a pile of humans.” High five!

Another study found that camping out, standing in line the night before, induces a sense of loyalty that researchers call a “collective consumption ritual.” While most of us find waiting in line torturous, these people like it. They even look forward to it. One researcher said, “For the person who’s been doing this for decades, this is as much of their Thanksgiving tradition as having turkey.”

There ya go: The orgy of greed vs. the serenity of family!

It probably doesn’t pay to tell these people that the best deals don’t even happen on Black Friday. The Wall Street Journal found that nearly one-third of last year’s Black Friday bargains being advertised had been available previously at lower prices.

But as one analyst explained, “People associate Black Friday with good prices, and that eliminates the need to check price.”

A Nielsen survey holds promise, finding that only 13 percent of American consumers said they’d actually be shopping at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday. That’s down from 17 percent in 2012, part of a four-year decline.

If you must shop, may I suggest “Small Business Saturday,” the nationwide event encouraging holiday shoppers to spend money at local, independent businesses?

Your choices range from 400-plus retailers in midtown Sacramento to the delightful six-block downtown of Nevada City. These people are your neighbors, not faceless corporate box stores. It’s more personal, and it’s civil. Nobody standing outside waiting for the doors to open.

Back at that Best Buy in Tampa, my friend there told me how he stopped in on Tuesday night to get “an overpriced phone charger.” His 8-year-old son, unfamiliar with the whole Black Friday phenomenon, said to the first guy in line, “You know the store is open, right? You can just go in. You don’t need to wait in line.”

Inside, he told the security desk that “a bunch of stupid people” were outside waiting to get in a store that’s “ALREADY OPEN!”

My friend emailed, “I considered explaining the whole thing to him, but the entertainment was way too good to mess up.”

So knock yourselves out, Black Friday shoppers! Crash the gates. Abuse your fellow humans. Hoard the doorbuster sales. Then go home, watch news footage of people in a third-world country fighting for food, and say, “My God, what savages!”