Black Friday: Was it personal desperation?

7 Dec

 

How many of these people are Christmas crazy, and how many of them are desperate to get something they need?

 

So, you may have been brave enough to shove through the Wal-Mart stampede on Black Friday. Perhaps you chose to stay at home, watch news footage of it all and laugh.

But are the people who were in the stampede working to fill Santa’s sleigh or desperate to get a discounted sweater because they’re sick of being cold?

This year’s Black Friday was definitely not the economic shot in the arm retailers had hoped to have. According to monthly same-store tracker Thomson Reuters, overall sales rose just 0.5% last month. This firm had originally forecasted a 2.1 percent increase. Note: Their figures do not include Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart reports its earnings on a quarterly basis.

On the other hand, those numbers are quite sweet when you compare this past November with November 2008. In 2008, sales DECLINED that month by a much steeper 7.8 percent. Let’s further compare the two Novembers. This year, the unemployment rate was 10 percent versus November 2008’s 6.8 percent. I’m sure most people who still have jobs now aren’t seeing their salaries increase. Also, keep in mind all the people who have had to take pay cuts this year. They’re not factors in the unemployment rate, but they have definitely seen their standards of living decrease.

Now, take a look at who is at the top of most shopping lists. It’s the shoppers, themselves. Sixty-six percent of Black Friday shoppers planned to buy at least SOMETHING for themselves, according to Consumer Reports’ Holiday Poll. That poll also indicated 51 percent of adults planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving weekend.

Were those shopping for themselves wanting to treat themselves? Or were they jumping at the chance to FINALLY get their hands on something they desperately needed.

Here’s a little hypothetical situation. You haven’t been able to afford a TV for the better part of a year. Meanwhile, the one you should have burned last decade has 10-foot-tall rabbit ears that are covered with tinfoil — and held up by bent wire hangers. Joan Crawford would have a heart attack if she saw that contraption.

Suddenly, you find out Megamartsupercentercheap is selling TVs the size of Earth for $50. These babies are sweet. They don’t just make you FEEL like you’re in the middle of your favorite sporting event. NFL players will actually jump out of your screen and battle one another for a Super Bowl victory in your living room. Tina Fey will be sandwiched between her crazy boss and insane employees right beside you as you chow down on a sandwich. The people screaming at one another on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC will all take their fight to your house. You will stand with The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore as a Category 5 hurricane makes landfall — on your couch.

Yes, this will all be in your living room. Did I also mention this TV can wave its magic wand and turn a pumpkin into a carriage?

OK. So I totally exaggerated on prices, sizes, features — hell, everything. But if you were desperate for a new TV AND needing a sweet deal to do it, wouldn’t you want to take advantage? Wouldn’t you wait outside in weather so cold your fingers are ready to break off? Wouldn’t you get up before the roosters crow?

I can tell you I personally took advantage of a sweet deal and for a very similar reason. Just a few months ago, I had to replace a computer that was more than five years old and a printer that was about 10 years old. I was holding out and trying to make these things last as long as I could. But time was running out. Then, my state waived all sales taxes on Energy Star-certified products for a little while. Sure enough, the computer I wanted had such a certification, and I found a sweet printer/scanner/copier that had it, as well. I was more or less forced to make the purchase, but I saved some major dinero.

Let’s take a look at what people are buying. Hot sellers include power tools, clothing and Snuggies. Everyone needs to fix things, and repair services cost money. No one can legally walk around naked (except in certain locations). Everyone also needs to stay warm. Sure, electronics were hot sellers, but how many people were replacing that infernal computer that eats every other midterm paper?

On the other hand, compare the price of a Snuggie to a dollar store blanket. Remember how Snuggies are as trendy now as ripped Jordache jeans were in the ’80s. Compare the price of power tools to your old-school screwdrivers and hammers. Electronics? Sure, everyone needs a good computer these days. But does anyone really need a device that projects TV images onto a blank wall?

I’d love to watch my beloved “30 Rock” from a blank wall. I’d also love to pay the rent.

Does everyone NEED Zhu Zhu? Toys R Us was hopping this year. In fact, people were in line at the Times Square store as early as 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. People weren’t just after this robot rodent. Xbox 360s, PS3s, video games, Hannah Montana dolls — and just about anything to make a kid’s dream come true — were being trucked out the door.

Here’s a major counterpoint to THAT: How many people also flooded Toys R Us because those deals meant they wouldn’t have to tell kids Santa wasn’t coming this year? Some people may call that overly sappy, but take it from someone who grew up in a family often in dire straits: It happens, and it’s terrible. All parties involved feel like dirt. Trust me. For those folks, things like a Barbie Fashion Fever Doll marked down to $7.98 or a Tickle Me Elmo doll for $5 off and with free shipping could be an answered prayer.

Sure, there will be some people out there just to treat themselves. But how many people in that crowd see the chance to have an ounce of enjoyment when they have only used money for bills all year? I confess, I often find myself wanting or even needing some kind of treat to keep myself going.

It’s a hard call, folks.

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