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Sense and Sensibilities

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by Neal Dranoff

Sense and Sensibilities

Today is Cyber Monday and the stock market appears to be temporarily shunning aside the ineptitude of Congress to deal with our deficit woes, along with (for the moment at least) discounting the continuing saga of Europe’s financial crisis. An annual phenomenon is the reason for this unlikely reprieve, and my eyes have an incredulous glaze each time I watch the television news accounts detailing this disturbing trend.

I refer to Black Friday, the official exclamation point on a new addition to our lexicon, “Christmas creep.” The retail industry, in what I grudgingly admit is an incredible marketing ploy, has enticed the public to begin their holiday shopping season even earlier than past years. Opening around 6 AM on Black Friday eventually gave way to 4 AM, and then the stroke of midnight immediately after Thanksgiving Day soon became the new norm. This year, retailers have decided our shopping lust needs to be satiated at an even earlier hour and stores have begun opening by 9 PM Thanksgiving Day.

Now I’ll admit they have succeeded with this tactic, as Thanksgiving weekend has set new shopping records, fueling today’s sweeping stock market upside swing. However, I could care less and feel the need to make a stand, so I ask the following question:who has the right to make Thanksgiving a half-day holiday, as opposed to a full day of spending time with our families and friends, in appreciation of all the good in our lives? I don’t want retailers continually encroaching on my time on this blessed day.

I’ll quote Dr. Stephen Hoch, a Wharton School marketing professor, speaking to the early start for the Black Friday madness: “This is, I think, kind of pathetic, this sort of ‘Open earlier, earlier, earlier’ deal…Clearly it’s kind of like an arms race.” He’s absolutely right; it’s as if we’re witnessing the evolution of the next Olympic sport—competitive shopping!

The crowd size of expectant shoppers lining-up outside the doors of many of our largest retail chains is unfortunately exceeded in many instances by the level of unruliness. Never has this point be better illustrated than by this past weekend’s pepper-spray incident. Who among us hasn’t watched recent nightly newscasts of multiple arrests being made in cities across the country while hordes wait to descend on stores opening their doors, followed by mad sprees to secure the “specials” serving as sales leaders to attract these crowds in the first place? Listen, it’s not that I don’t entirely understand…42” flat-screen LED televisions for $200.00 sound enticing, even when you know they won’t have the latest/greatest technology.

But here’s a few clues for all of us:

1. The real reason stores provide these deals is to get you there to spend money on all the other items.

2. The same discounts and even deeper ones are often provided by retailers as the holiday shopping season marches towards Chanukah and Christmas.

3. The window between Thanksgiving and the holidays generally is upwards of four weeks in duration, not just one or two days. So what’s the rush; there’s plenty of time to fulfill your Chanukah/Christmas shopping needs.

Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, states that “…young adults are the ones who really come out in full force on Thanksgiving Day. they may have three hours free after dinner, and they want to get some shopping done and be home by midnight.” This isn’t to say I’m absolving my 50 plus year-old brethren; some of us are willing participants in this annual mania. I’d like to think we have enough common sense to exercise better judgment, but…

By now, you may have deduced Thanksgiving holds particular importance for me; indeed, it is my favorite holiday. In a year that has not been singularly “bountiful” in financial terms for my family, I still remain appreciative of the many truly important facets of life we enjoy…good health and strong family bonds heading the list. Can I respectfully suggest we all stop. take a deep breath, and enjoy Thanksgiving for the full day; brick-and-mortar shopping and its online counterpart will still be there tomorrow.

-Neal




Tags: black friday cyber monday holiday shopping retail industry thanksgiving weekend wharton school marketing

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