Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Blackest Friday...

Hello Friends.

A shorter entry is in order, I’m afraid, as I must reserve my strength. Retail work during the holiday season is stressful, and Boxing Week sales are a tough slog right after Christmas, but nothing is quite so horrifying as the aptly named Black Friday.

A cursory Wikipedia search shows that Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005 as it unofficially marks the beginning of holiday shopping season. Don’t YouTube Black Friday. Really don’t. I go to YouTube for clips of cats eating with a knife and fork, not people literally trampling each other to death outside a WalMart. But that’s what happens. People die. And for what? Electronics? Clothes? I know times are tough, money is tight, and a deal’s a deal, but how do you enjoy your plasma TV if you bought it where all those people died? “Isn’t that a crisp picture? I can still hear the screams of that mother of four who perished. Everything’s better in HD, don’t you think?”

Thankfully, blessedly, it’s not nearly so bad here in Canada. The store I work at has extended hours tomorrow and, though I work a nine hour shift, I’m incredibly lucky that I neither have to open nor close. I just show up, grit my teeth from 11 – 8, and go home. Plus, I work with good people, which makes all the difference on days like these. But even as I see quality merchandise go for rock-bottom prices and try to stretch my hard-earned dollars this holiday season, one thing becomes abundantly clear.

Dream: Never shop on Black Friday.

Goal: Achievable, at least for now. I don’t have any kids, and I’m still at the age/income level where an inexpensive, “thought-that-counts” gift (ie. Something cheap and shitty) is something my nearest and dearest accept from me every holiday and birthday without complaint. So really, I have no earthly reason to wake up early, wait out in the cold, and fight a horde of people for stuff.

Plan: Remind myself of the many truths of retail that I’ve learned as a customer service rep in one iteration or another for years and years. Truths like:

Shopping on Black Friday reinforces the idea that people will buy anything if it’s cheap enough. Literally anything. I worked in a drugstore for years, and we would have this clearance rack that had discontinued or nearly expired items that we just had to get rid of. Some purchases made perfect sense. Why not get Halloween candy on November first, or bulk Valentine’s cards on February 15th to be prepared for next year? But I couldn’t get over what people would buy. For instance, I once sold a MegaPak, let’s say a 96-tablet bottle, of Children’s Advil that was expiring in less than a month. HOW SICK IS YOUR CHILD? Yes, maybe your brood will all get colds at the same time, but unless you’re a Sister Wife with a 16-child house, or you run an illegitimate pediatrics operation out of your garage that’s about to be shut down by the feds WHY do you need all that? I really think we could have sold rusty nails if they were 10 for a dollar.

The saddest part of these super-cheap last-chance clearance sales is that they often didn’t benefit the people who really could have used these goods. The drugstore I worked for in Toronto was near Chinatown and many of our clientele owned stores in that area. We had one family in particular, a man, his wife, a mother, and an aunt or something, who would all come in at different times, buy our cheapest stuff, then turn around and sell it at their store. That’s fine, I guess, except when it wasn’t.

I remember one weekend, we had a bunch of double extra-large diapers on clearance. They were a tie-in to some movie (Cars, we’ll say, or Poopin’ with Elmo) and the tie-in was over, so we had cheap diapers for once, and double XL was the variety we had the most of, I think because they really were big diapers and most kids that fit them probably were into Pull-Ups territory, if not completely toilet-trained. But there was one couple who had a teenaged son who was severely handicapped. They had to buy diapers for their boy every week of his life, they surely still have to. The dad explained to me once that adult diapers worked for their son too, but were designed in such a way that an incontinent older person could easily get them on and off. This meant that their son could also easily take them off, make a mess, etc. The advantage to buying big kids’ ones instead of small adults’ ones was a practical one. He couldn’t rip the children’s diapers off of himself as readily, it saved the parents a headache. I know this seems like an unnecessary diversion into the topic of incontinence, but the dad explaining this to me wasn’t embarrassed when he talked about it, just frustrated. That was because all of the double XL diapers had been purchased by a childless couple with a store down the street, hoping to re-sell the items at a higher markup, and the mom and dad who came down to our store because they had heard of the sale left empty-handed. I wanted to cry for these people who worked so damn hard for their kid, and I wanted to scream at the couple selling our stuff for their profit, but I didn’t do either. What I take away from those experiences is a gnawing, rotten feeling in my guts when I’m about to buy something just because it’s cheap, not because I need it. If I buy an ugly Christmas sweater at a thrift store because “it’s SO hideous I just HAVE to have it”, does that not insult the person who needs to buy a sweater for four dollars because it’s fucking cold outside?

I won’t shop on Black Friday because I don’t know anybody that needs anything that badly. This is where not having kids is the key issue here, and where I must re-emphasize that my unsuccessful gift-giving doesn’t potentially ruin anybody’s holiday. But still, I have friends who are parents of young children and they don’t go overboard in the gift-giving, and their children aren’t deprived, unfortunate hooligans. 

I worked in a video store when the Nintendo Wii was released. Mind you, this was a video rental place, not an electronics store, so we usually only had about four consoles in stock at any given time. So we’d get a few in stock and they would immediately sell, and then we’d get more, and then they would sell, and so on. It was always like that, even after the Wii had been out for 18 months. I was working the till one December when a frazzled woman asked if we had any Wii’s. I checked and we didn’t, but I could see from our computer that another store location across town had a couple in stock. “Across town!” she whined. “I’m not going all the way over there! Dammit! You don’t have any?! How am I supposed to explain to my kids that Santa screwed them over two years in a row?” I remember exactly what she said, all these years later, because I found so many things wrong with it. First of all, this is not an impossible situation: if she really, really wanted this stupid thing, she could have driven across town to the other location, or visited any number of system retailers in the city. The Wii had, as you’ll recall from earlier in this paragraph, been out for 18 months. Also, WHAT? You’re going to explain to your kids that “Santa screwed them over”?! How’s THAT gonna go, Mom? “Oh no, Jayben and Braxter! No Wii’s! That Santa’s such a dick! I can’t believe he screwed you over like that! You must be really bad kids, I guess.” I know you shouldn’t judge any parent, but what a terrible mother, am I right?

I won’t shop on Black Friday because that can’t be what this time of year is about. What’s shocking is that Black Friday is an American phenomenon and it falls the day after their Thanksgiving. This means that some people go right from their Thanksgiving dinner, after they’ve discussed all they are thankful for, to go camp out in front of a Best Buy. That’s fucked up. And for the record, I think Boxing Day shopping is just as horrible. If you camp out and line up and trample and scratch and claw to get some stupid thing, isn’t that just few steps below draping yourself in blood diamonds?

I said this was going to be short, but I lied. It’s past my bedtime and I’m probably going to be a big cranky baby tomorrow, but I was planning to be like that anyway. I think a true Christmas miracle would be if I showed up tomorrow to a pleasantly dead store. My coworkers and I will marvel at the untouched piles of merchandise, sit on our hands and watch the clock. Someone will do a coffee run and we’ll all get silly on caffeine and dress the mannequins in ugly outfit combinations. We’ll be so busy goofing off that we won’t notice that entire mall has emptied out. Our sales will be so bad that hours have to be cut drastically to compensate. Most of us will spend the weekend at home drinking hot chocolate, and waiting for that creepy hand to pop in on the Fireplace Channel to adjust a log. We’ll return on Monday to business as usual and gird ourselves to the onslaught of holiday consumerism, but we’ll face it with much greater optimism, as we remember the Black Friday that never was. You can’t put a price on memories like that.

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