How the Grinch Stole Black Friday

Friday, November 28th. 2:45 a.m. The alarm clock buzzer pierces the quiet night. My wife, Janet, and I gathered the kids, grabbed the newspaper advertising inserts???and cash.

Janet and Journey drove to JC Penney to await a 4:00 a.m. early opening to buy a $118 artificial Christmas tree. I dropped off Joseph at Sports Authority to get in line for a 5:00 a.m. opening to purchase a $145 snowboard package and Summer at ShopKo to buy a $49 acoustic guitar. I headed over to Staples to await the 6:00 a.m. opening to purchase a $99 flat screen computer monitor. Long lines, cold temperatures, shoppers on edge. The doors finally opened, store employees braced for the onslaught, hundreds of shoppers ran through the aisles clamoring for the doorcrasher specials. Customers complained to store managers when the supply of doorcrasher items sold out after the first 5 minutes. However, our pre-planned strategy paid off and we returned home with our Christmas gift purchases, ate breakfast, and went back to bed to get some well-deserved sleep.

Welcome to Black Friday.

For twenty years, I sold televisions, computers and other consumer electronics as a commission salesman and sales manager in the annual retailing rite of the ???busiest shopping day of the year??? — the Friday after Thanksgiving — or the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season. Retailers call this day Black Friday because they make most of their annual profits from holiday shoppers between Thanksgiving and Christmas and turn their bottom line on the books from red ink (deficits) to black ink (profits).

I also called it Black Friday because I made plenty of money but, after a non-stop 16-hour day of talking, writing sales tickets and keeping hot-tempered shoppers happy, my body was sore and my mind was drained. Some days you skipped food, water and rest breaks until the store closed at midnight. Repeat everyday until Christmas. Hmmm???still trying to figure out how my wife and kids talked me into all that early morning ???fun??? last Friday just to save a few bucks.

Many retailers shy away from using the phrase ???Black Friday??? because it draws unwanted comparisons to the chaos associated with the stock market crashes of 1987 (Black Monday) and 1929 (Black Tuesday). That being said, I believe retailers are, in part, to blame for the negative tag “Black Friday” for this reason alone: aggressive store advertising and offering deep discounts on “teaser” items but then only having 6-10 of those items in stock.

This is what one retailer advertised on an electronic game system. The store had at least 400 people outside their doors last week. Here’s the typical scenario: Doors open at 5 a.m….crush of people rushing in…shoppers elbowing and fighting with each other…the police are called in and hopefully break it up. Dozens of angry customers yelling at store managers about running out of the doorcrasher ad items and alleged deceptive advertising. We drove by and saw the long lines and avoided that retailer but the same thing repeated itself at the stores we patronized.

My point is why don’t retailers come up with a much more pleasant, exciting and non-violent method to attract customers and their “Greenbacks”? What about an Internet or lottery system where the customer has to be physically present at the store when they call out your number for your right to buy the teaser ad item? That way, the stores receive the best of both worlds…large crowds ready to spend their money without the need to fight, kick, scratch — or worse — seriously harm each other over a teaser ad item. Why do retailers insist on enticing their customers to camp out with tents, blankets, and sleeping bags, blocking the front doors of the business? Then, when the doors open, shoppers run like wild animals through the store aisles, running over children, elderly customers, employees and display bins, and knocking merchandise off the shelves. The profit motive can’t be THAT important to ignore the customers’ well-being and buying experience. Or is it?

At a Long Island, New York Wal-Mart, a mob of 2,000 customers seeking to get their hands on a limited supply of doorcrasher items, trampled and killed a Wal-Mart employee who was trying to keep the crowd back. A pregnant customer was also knocked down to the ground. Other Wal-Mart employees attempted to rescue the trampled employee and others but were also thrown to the ground and injured. While the poor man was dying, the unruly mob continued to step on and over him like he was road kill.

Wal-Mart will pay out a lot of money to the deceased employee’s family/estate for the apparent negligence by company officials. I believe the company knew or should have known that this kind of mob mentality and action by its aggressive ads, limited quantities of doorcrasher items, lack of a ticket/voucher system to process large groups of customers in an orderly fashion, inadequate levels of security personnel outside the store to control the crowd, and Wal-Mart???s knowledge and experience with these kinds of crowds at the door in previous years, led to this tragedy. This case won’t go to trial — Wal-Mart and their insurance carrier will open their checkbook and settle for high 6 or 7 figures. Guess who pays for that settlement? You do???with higher prices passed onto the consumer.

On the same day, in Southern California, Toys R Us shoppers got into an argument over merchandise, a person pulled out a gun, and two people are now dead.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big supporter of free-markets and the entrepreneurial spirit. But entrepreneurs and retailers need to rethink the way they do business so that Black Friday shoppers don’t have to worry about whether they’re risking life and limb just so they can get one of a few available $399.99 laptop computers that regularly sell for $800.00 each. Sure, people will be people, and retailers can’t be responsible for every possible violent contingency by their customers. However, some retailers are setting themselves up for violent incidents when they don???t have in place reasonable crowd control personnel and procedures and make the mistake of advertising a very limited supply of teaser doorcrasher items to crazed, stressed-out, tired customers who’ve been waiting all night to get their hands on the items at all costs.

Is this senseless loss of life just the cost of doing business by society and corporate America? I hope not. Otherwise, we have lost our way and the true meaning of Christmas.
Black Friday is now Gladiator Friday.