Feeding the Frenzy

Posted: November 29, 2008 in Consumerism, Culture, Media, Tacky

News reports from all over North American tell of Black Friday crowds stampeding through the doors at the start of business. Abusive behavior, crime, injuries, and even one death are the results. G’head: Google it. People who get through the throngs unscathed probably find it exhilarating and wouldn’t miss it for the world. Retailers are feeding the frenzy by encouraging shoppers to race for sale items, often located at the back of the store. This image from Target embodies the value:

What’s missing are the obstacles and other shoppers this gleeful guy bowled over to get to his purchases.

Maybe it’s a sort of chicken-and-egg question. Which came first: stores engineering predictable disasters at peak times in crowded entryways or commodity-hungry shoppers willing to risk personal injury by running the opening gate gauntlet. Another way to put the question is who’s more to blame? It’s probably a fool’s errand to answer that, but from a practical point of view, it’s a lot easier to control the sale environment than the behavior of mobs.

Videos on the web show shoppers streaming through the doors hooting and cheering and having fun. No one plans to fall or trample someone else who’s fallen, but it’s an entirely predictable result of the way doors are thrown open at 4 AM or some ungodly hour to get a head start on seasonal gift buying. Sometimes the spark that ignites the crowd is an announcement in the parking lot that only so many of item X are on hand, at which point the crowd surges. These are not desperate people trying to get fed in a bread line. Rather, they’re seeking to save something like $30 on a sale item, and for that, they’ll race, fight, and sometimes hold up fellow shoppers at gunpoint to get item X.

This problem has been building for some years. The starting time of Black Friday events has been creeping earlier and earlier, creating a false sense of lost opportunity. Similarly, the scarcity of must-have gifts, whether Tickle Me Elmo or Xbox, has caused shoppers to scramble. Retailers are also dangling carrots before the crowds and then are pretending to be inexplicably aghast at the mob savagery that results. Are store managers not paying attention? If a mob gathers for a sale event and there are no contingency plans for crowd control, a reasonable response might be to cancel the sale and send everyone home. Or maybe the sale shouldn’t be set to occur on a notoriously high-traffic shopping day where a maximum of 35 units are guaranteed to disappoint 300 shoppers, who then proceed to struggle with each other for access to booty. Or maybe the media (including retailers with their advertisements) shouldn’t whip people into a frenzy with promises of ecstatic fulfillment at obtaining their heart’s desire but with the foreknowledge that they’ll have to contend with the crowds to do so.

The whole business is obscene. Crowds behave like piranha gutting their prey, and retailers are basically throwing chum into the water. I didn’t venture out on Black Friday at all. Is any consumer item so important that it can’t wait a few days until the crowds disperse a bit?

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Comments
  1. Jennie says:

    I am absolutely in agreement with you that people behave badly, laugh at the fighting and consider it a “highlight” of their holiday. It’s appalling, ugly and I will NEVER shop on Black Friday at 4 in the morning.

  2. Vilon says:

    The real thanks here is to be given to the door designer. Any body think about that guy/lady? He/she actually designed a glass wall, capable of not breaking open when a mob of retarded eBay resellers pushed on these gates until someone got squashed or trampled. Can you imagine the technical specification:

    Pressure: Door must be able to withstand 3 ton of pressure and blood splatters without opening.

    I vote for blades put between the doors so they chop off arms when they close!

    Happy shopping!

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