I awoke Friday, mildly hung-over on turkey and wine, to a TV news clip of early-morning shoppers stampeding through a local Target, elbowing one another for the best “Black Friday” deals. This clip was no different than others played every year on the day after Thanksgiving. But at least nobody was trampled to death this year.
I can’t claim to be guiltless of the occasional ill-informed impulse buy, but the retail industry’s holiday sales—and Black Friday in particular—make my gut churn. This is senseless consumerism at its worst.
The fallacy is this: Wake up on a holiday (of which there are precious few in this overworked country), drive down to your local strip mall, wait in line with other bleary-eyed bargain hunters, and claw and bite your way to the front of the crowd for the ability—no, the privilege—of spending your hard-earned money on some marked-down consumer electronics.
- A fear of missing out on “limited time” deals.
- Competition with other shoppers, making you feel like you’re winning an item, not buying it.
- Assumed value. When an item is marked down from $400 to $200, it’s easier to justify buying it quickly. If the same items’ regular price were $200, however, we would take the decision to buy far more carefully.
- An easy decision. When something is on sale, it makes the decision to buy easier. You can decide to buy solely because it’s on sale, not because it’s the best product, you really need it, etc.
- The illusion of saving. Ever shop at a store where the clerk tells you at check out how much money you just “saved”? What about how much you just spent?
Make no mistake, sales—especially Black Friday and Cyber Monday—are designed to compel you to spend money—not because Best Buy is feeling charitable and wants to give 5,000 lucky Americans new 43-inch TVs at half price.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter if you’re saving $100 off a $200 item—you’re still spending $100. Now here’s the trick. If you were 100% certain you were going to buy that item for $200 and then happened to find it for $100, great…you’re actually saving. But if you make the decision to buy based on the savings alone, you have to question it.
What do you think? Do you agree that sales often lead to more spending than saving? Did you go out on Black Friday? Why or why not? If you did, what did you buy, and why? Share your thoughts.
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