Black Friday – has it gone too far?

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

by Mihael Willman

Black Friday, the Thursday before Black Friday, the week before Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, etc., soon it will be Black Friday month, if this trend continues. Maybe it might be better to simply create another “holiday” not “holyday” dedicated to the “God” of merchandising and manufacturing. It could be called the “Shop Till You Drop Bargain-hunting Day,” or “Look at the loot I got for next to nothing,” or any other similarly appropriate name. But definitely do not call it “Christmas” shopping. Jostling with hundreds if not thousands of people in crowded stores and malls is not what Christmas is about. And fighting over the same “drastically” reduced item has nothing in common with the season or spirit of goodwill.

Instead of spending a quiet time at home with the family giving thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, as the first Pilgrims did, and as all people did after the annual harvest was in, U.S. Thanksgiving has just become the day to camp out at the mall and rush the doors for the best “bargains.” Some people claim that it is still a family event, since they go shopping with family members. And it is not just Americans, but a growing number of Canadians who cross the border to engage in this frenzy of shopping, supposedly convinced they are getting a bargain. For people who live directly across the border, it might be, since crossing is a short trip. But to travel over 100 miles, stay in a motel for a couple of days, gas, food, etc., just what does one really save in the long run?

Years ago I went through a couple of U.S. stores and found the same cheap goods produced by poorly-paid workers in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and China, which I could buy here, if I were so inclined. And I’m not. The fact that they were cheaper then in Ontario, didn’t make them any more attractive. Now if the goods in question had been quality American-made products, then I would have considered buying, but hardly anything was. And this was in summer. I wouldn’t waste my time going near one of those stores during the insane time.

Several years ago news reporters did a segment on Canadian cross-border shoppers at an outlet mall near Buffalo. The vast majority of cars had Ontario license plates. Either at that time, or subsequently, it was reported that Buffalo store owners / managers loved Canadian shoppers who would buy just about anything, as long as it was supposedly marked down drastically. Stock that couldn’t be moved or sold before, or anything that the managers wanted to get rid of, was appropriately marked down and snapped up by Canadians. How could one pass up an item which was reduced 50%, 60% or possibly even 75%, even though the price was probably marked up considerably before it was reduced for the gullible shoppers?

Since then a number of issues have come to light. Warranties on electronics purchased in the U.S. aren’t honored in Canada. So if something is broken, goes wrong, etc., you have to return it to the American store where it was purchased.

Similarly, CTV consumer affairs reporter Pat Foran had a nice segment on “Outlet Malls” which succinctly blasted to smithereens any lingering illusions about the commonly held belief that one gets a bargain on popular brand name items at these locations. Rather than being a place which has good bargains on brand name products deemed “seconds” with minor flaws, it is a place for which major manufacturers specifically produce cheaper quality items for gullible shoppers. As an example: where a pair of leather shoes would be made in Italy and cost about $150 in the regular store, the product sold in the “outlet” would be of polyurethane, made in China and sold for between $40 and $50. Considering the difference in quality, the so-called saving or bargain, is nothing of the kind. Of course if your purpose is to buy something for one season, or less, and then throw it away, then it might meet your needs just nicely. But if you want to wear them for several seasons, than buying cheaper is not a bargain. Not only that, it will most likely end up in a garbage dump and simply add to the pollution.

Another question shoppers should ask themselves when they buy those greatly reduced items is, “what actually is the real cost or value of that item.” If a store can reduce an item by 60% or more, could it be that the original price is grossly inflated? Today most pricing does not follow the old tried and true method. Stores set prices as high as they think the market will bear. If people were to refuse paying the highly inflated prices, then maybe we can get back to a more normal level and get rid of these crazy “Black Friday” scenes.

Or if people could simply recognize that Christmas is primarily a religious holiday and not an excuse for mindless spending, then just maybe a semblance of sanity could return to this wonderful season.