Forget Thanksgiving. What happened to Black Friday?
At least two things that can happen when you hold a sale.
- Price discrimination: From each according to his willingness to pay, to the store according to its willingness to take money. The idea behind a sale is to sell to only those customers who would not have bought otherwise. Sorry, sales are not held to “honor veterans” or “help customers stretch their dollars”. Sales exist because stores think they will make more money by holding the sale than by not.
- Discounts for people who would have bought anyway: A retailer’s worst nightmare is that your TV will stop working in the days leading up to a sale on the TV you would have otherwise paid full price for. You get the heavily discounted price that was intended only for customers who would not have bought otherwise.
Retailers have to weigh the dollar impact of 1 and 2 to determine whether a sale is worth holding and how much to discount. Black Friday was a perfect time to hold a sale because
- It was sort of a secret rather than an event. Only real cheapskates knew about it. I remember telling people I was going to head out early on Black Friday and get a “Huh?!” as if I had said something racially tinged.
- It was inconvenient. Only those people who really valued their money dearly would bother to drive long hours the morning after a monstrous meal when the rest of their family slumbered.
These were great ways to discriminate, and it enabled retailers to offer genuine discounts to the cheapskates who would not have otherwise bought and avoid the people who would have bought anyway taking advantage of their sales.
Because internet, that has all changed. News articles used to have to explain the etymology of Black Friday. Explaining what Black Friday is in 2013 would be like explaining in a political article that the United States has a president.
Further, Black Friday has become convenient. Kohl’s and Best Buy launched Black Friday pricing a couple of days ago. Amazon has been running Black Friday specials for two weeks. Sears.com pricing came online yesterday. You can do your Black Friday shopping without making it to Friday alive. This is not an environment conducive to good price discrimination. Regular people know about Black Friday and are able to participate, so we see pricing that is no better than other sales during the year. This doesn’t mean you can’t save on Black Friday. It’s just that you shouldn’t expect to save more than you would have on Labor Day.
That’s right. The problem is that Black Friday has become too commercialized. This makes me sad.
A number of people this year seem instead to be mourning Thanksgiving due to some retailers opening today. I can’t help but notice though that many of my Facebook friends who lodge these complaints were a few years ago implying that Thanksgiving was a celebration of the slaughter of millions of Native Americans. I don’t claim to know which interpretation holds more true for Thanksgiving, but it makes me nostalgic for the relative moral simplicity of Black Friday.
It’s hard to even argue that Thanksgiving is less consumerist than Black Friday. This year’s
peons paeans (Thank you, LWA. Damn you, autocorrect?) to Thanksgiving make it sound like it has always been about family. Before it became a political issue though, Thanksgiving was about watching a bunch of corporate-sponsored floats in the Macy’s Parade, literally consuming 4500 Calories per person, and then watching heavily subsidized multimillionaires inflict permanent brain damage upon one another for the public’s amusement. I’ll pass on the turkey and take the humble authenticity of Black Friday.