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The 50-State Distributed Mosh Pit

Black Friday is almost over. I haven’t been out of the house at all today, as crisp and gorgeous a day as it’s been. Given how much I dislike crowds, I’m surprised I didn’t spend all day in the upstairs closet.

Multitudes obviously feel otherwise. News at 11.

Today’s Wall Street Journal ran a short piece that pretty much nailed it for me: Black Friday “Doorbusters” Don’t Always Hold Up. The money quote:

An analysis by pricing research firm Decide Inc. and The Wall Street Journal of this year’s most-touted Black Friday deals found that many of the bargains advertised as “doorbusters” were available at lower prices at other times of the year-sometimes even at the same retailer.

So people were camping out on the sidewalk since the last turkey-gasp yesterday–and sometimes earlier–for nothing.

Nothing? Maybe not. Carol and I have a theory: Black Friday has become a species of entertainment. It’s not about getting a deal. It’s about the crowds, the rush, the experience. As my business partner Keith Weiskamp said way back in 1994: “The critical app of the Internet is other people.”

Bingo. The whole point of Black Friday is to do the Shop Dance in public, even if you don’t bring anything home at all. It’s like a rock concert with a 50-state distributed mosh pit and so many people screaming that you can’t hear the music. Music? You mean there’s music? Hey man, feel the energy!

Yes, retailers are feeling the energy. They’ve fired up their spreadsheets and they’re hard at work trying to see if anybody’s actually paying attention to the price tags. Increasingly, they’re not. Hard stats indicate that the best prices for jewelry and watches happen in October, and for big-screen TVs at the beginning of the year. The point is to perpetuate the meme, raise prices a little each year, and keep people dancing.

Now, commerce is what makes jobs happen, and jobs are good. Money seems to work best when it moves quickly. So far be it from me to object. (Black Friday is the best day of the year for plumbers, by the way, but not for the reason that first crosses your mind.) If national flash crowds are hip and you’re a hipster, go for it. If you’re of my general temperament, a better strategy is to read a book–or maybe write one. (NaNoWriMo is still at its fevered peak.) I start my Christmas shopping this Monday, from right here in my chair, with an egg nog at my elbow and a quad core at my command. Some goods have to be handled to facilitate reasonable decision-making, and I’m budgeting time for that too, ideally when everybody else is at home reading a book. When?

I’d tell you. But I’d be lying.

One Comment

  1. Paul says:

    I’ve always had a question in my mind as to why retailers would offer their deals almost a month before Christmas instead of after, but let it go as people knowing better. Lately I’ve been thinking as you post, that maybe the deals aren’t really that great of a deal. Maybe it’s the frenzy a few deals create to attract those that in the rush don’t realize that some of what they’re buying isn’t really a deal at all.

    I think of them as rabid sheep.

    My Wife & I were watching the news and saw a video of a Victoria’s Secret of all places where a video camera was pointed at the entrance, and a literal *crowd* was waiting to get inside. The doors opened, and the store was instantly packed with people taking everything. The attraction? A free hand bag. I’m thinking many rabid sheep were fleeced that day.

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