There's quite a bit of grey to think about with Black Friday

This week, I’ve been frustrated with some comments about Black Friday. For many, the idea of Black Friday is wrong. I understand where they’re coming from, but the reality is that as long as consumers show up, the hype isn’t going to die down. 

Black Friday used to be more commonly known as “the day after Thanksgiving”. For as long as I can remember, that day has marked the official kick off to Christmas shopping. I have personally gone shopping on the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of the sales as I completed my shopping lists for Christmas.

I once worked 14 hours on the day after Thanksgiving. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day. The atmosphere was happy, energetic, excited. People were gearing up for my personal favorite holiday of the year - Christmas. Working that day was actually fun. I was even interviewed for the local news.

Though the term “Black Friday” has been around for decades, it became a marketing ploy only in the last decade.

As with most things, the press has taken isolated yet extreme incidents and created an impression of rampant violence fueled by the greed of American consumers. 

I’m not a fan of what Black Friday has become. I think many of the “deals” are suspect and it saddens me to see shoppers worked into a frenzy to spend money in order to save a few dollars. If I lived in the US, I would no longer participate in any way with what it has become. I also won’t participate in the burgeoning Black Friday sales that have made their way into Canada. (And, for the record, we avoid Boxing Day as well.)

There’s been a lot of disturbing criticism of Black Friday that hits home to me, because it comes across as judgmental, uses generalizations or makes accusations of hypocrisy. 

The judgmental criticism is usually centered around the idea that Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family. And I totally agree. The Black Friday sales that are creeping into Thanksgiving Day (Black Thursday) - ugh. I just hope people boycott those retailers. However, the day after Thanksgiving sales really aren’t any different than Boxing Day in Canada. And though there haven’t been the same reports of the kinds of crazed shoppers that have happened in the US, it doesn’t mean that can’t or won’t happen here. 

I’ve seen a lot of generalizations that lump all Americans into various unflattering categories (both implied and explicit) - selfish, materialistic, greedy, etc. Sometimes generalizations can be used to make a point and recognizing that they are generalizations can soften the impact. But there are a lot of people in the US who are really good people. Some of them choose not to participate in Black Friday. Others do participate. The vast majority of the shopping that goes on happens with long waits, but customers remain civilized. Unfortunately, that’s boring, so it doesn’t make the news or internet memes. 

Finally there’s the hypocrisy claims. Suddenly it’s bad to be thankful Thursday and then go out and buy things Friday. I could probably come up with a list of dozens of reasons that people might be out shopping that don’t have anything to do with acquiring more posessions. One happens to be the original purpose of Black Friday - Christmas shopping (presumably for others). And so what if I go out and buy something new for myself? Does doing so the day after Thanksgiving make me somehow less thankful?

Instead of questioning the motivations of those who are going out on Black Friday to shop, perhaps it’s more productive to think about the reasons we’ve gotten to the point of frenzied shopping in the first place.

  1. We have had years of downturn in the economy, workers who can’t find jobs, etc. 
  2. There is more pressure than ever before to keep up with all the latest and greatest stuff - affordable or not.
  3. People want to save money wherever they can to live up to a certain standard.
  4. Some people think they will feel better if they go shopping (retail therapy).

I’m not so naive that I think everyone is out there due to misfortune or for altruistic reasons. However, I know that not everyone is out there for the negative reasons that are being thrown about on social media lately. 

There are over 300 million imperfect humans in the US. There are over 30 million imperfect humans in Canada. Both countries have their pros and cons. Both countries have awesome people and not-so-awesome people. Neither country is better than the other. 

In my opinion, it is foolish to think that Canada is immune to these kinds of incidents, especially as they’ve already happened here before. So, perhaps it’s time to stop being critical and start speaking with your feet by walking away from Black Friday. That’s the only way retailers are ever going to tone it down.