The Money Chronicles, Volume 8: Reflections on Black Friday

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as “Black Friday.” It’s an important day for many retailers and it’s called Black Friday because it’s the first day of the year many businesses go from being “in the red” (debt) to being “in the black” (profit). It’s no understatement to recognize how much energy they put into making sure as many of us spend as much money as we can.

They use a number of strategies, some obvious, some not so obvious. We’re all familiar with two of them: discounts and expanded hours. If you were willing to get in line early enough you can save money.

But it’s the less than obvious strategies that interest me and they are right under our noses. Some of the media is picking up on this, but at least a few major retailers inflate the price and then discount it to give the appearance of savings. If a flat screen TV set was $300 but today is discounted to $200, was it really ever $300? I think most consumers are so wowed by the idea of saving $100 that they don’t look to see the actual retail price.

In seeing the ads, do you ever notice the phrase “While Supplies Last?” It’s the reason people are willing to stand in line for hours. A limited supply creates several advantages for retailers and I’m amazed at how many of us fall for it. It creates a frenzy that shouts out the voice that asks “Do I really need this?” Instead we wait in line, race down the isle, and grab it before someone else does. We’re already seeing news stories about fistfights in stores as otherwise smart and well meaning people turn into crazed lunatics. And for the people who didn’t get in line early enough and missed out? The retailers know that we aren’t willing to come home empty handed and they have lots of other (and more expensive) merchandise for us to purchase.

A few years ago one on Nancy’s colleagues told me that all conflicts come down to three categories: resources, feelings, and values. These conflicts are born out of scarce (and intentionally created) resources. By telling us that there are only a few products available, they tell us that we have to throw caution and good sense to the wind, and get it now.

So let’s not do that. Let’s do exactly what they don’t want us to do: take a breath, pause, and ask: Is this really worth all the frenzy? Will this make as much sense next June as it does now? Is it possible to be happy by wanting less than having more?

I think it is.