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Viewpoint: Paint it black

BY JASMINE MCNENNY

Published November 25, 2012

For years, Black Friday has been a holiday tradition. Just hours after the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, the streets and parking lots of malls and electronic stores begin to fill with adrenaline-filled shoppers, anxiously clutching newspaper advertisements featuring photos of $179 flat-screen TVs and 60-percent discounts on winter coats. Each year, people flood the stores with the hope of finding the “deal of the century.” But while some wonder if the sales are worth the madness, others question the necessity of Black Friday altogether.

With the convenience of online shopping, many stores are waiting until “Cyber Monday” to unleash the huge sales on their merchandise. Other stores extend in-store sales for several days after Black Friday and/or start their sales as early as 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Many shoppers affirm that these deals are actually just as good, if not better, than the door busters on Friday morning.

Yet, at exactly midnight on Friday morning, hundreds of people herded into the Westfield Mall in Canton, Ohio and began ripping merchandise from the racks of specialty shops and department stores. Every Black Friday is the same — the shopping world is thrown into pandemonium as people revert to their animal instincts in order to get $100 off an iPad.

But are the deals really that good? Usually, these same discounts can be found on Amazon or eBay regardless of what day it is. What makes people go out is the lure of “hope-ium.” We are obsessed with instant gratification and the need to feel like we earned the deal that we got by waking up early, clawing our way through the crowd and standing in a line that wraps all the way around the store. Black Friday is more about the psychology and less about the actual sales.

The psychology of Black Friday’s chaos stems from our fear of scarcity. On Black Friday, there are only a limited number of high-quality items available at the bargain prices and, therefore, our natural sense of competition takes over because we want those items. The door buster deals end by early afternoon, and retailers use this ploy to play on our sense of urgency and our fear of missing out. These two factors, combined with Christmas shopping guilt trips and a healthy dose of adrenaline, draw us out to stores earlier and earlier every year.

The flip side of this is that these factors also blind us to logic, practicality and social graces. Five minutes into their feeding frenzy over the newest tablet, the nicest people suddenly turn into wild animals and care very little about whose feet they step on or if the old woman beside them had her hands on the box first. People spend money on things they don’t need just because it sounds like a good deal or because everyone else thinks it’s a good deal.

For example, all eyes are drawn to the half-destroyed sweatshirt display whether we intended to buy a sweatshirt or not. We’re tempted only by the knowledge that a high number of people must have considered it a bargain. Similarly, the sales that stores put up are not always as savings-filled as they first appear. With all the balloons, fire-engine red signs and coupon passes, we’re lulled into believing that these sales are a one-time deal when, in actuality, they could easily reappear two weeks later as the Christmas season draws near.

Black Friday is neither logical nor practical. It’s dangerous, exhausting and barbaric. It’s like an amusement park. It feeds our need for excitement, our child-like optimism and our inbred materialism. Though many articles call for the extinction of Black Friday, it will be the mental thrill of the whole experience — if nothing else — that keeps it alive. Week-long sales aren’t as tantalizing, and online shopping lacks the emotional satisfaction. Black Friday isn’t leaving us any time soon. It’s like a drug, and we’re all hooked.

Jasmine McNenny is an LSA sophomore.