Black Friday Blues...
Blogging about Black Friday makes me feel old, because I start reminiscing about back in the day, when there were plenty of good deals to be found, and media hype and lines were short, and we had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to school.
But it's the truth - well, except for the uphill both ways thing. I think the first year I did any kind of Black Friday shopping was 2000. A family member wanted, of all things, a paper shredder, and Staples had one on sale until noon. I rolled up there around 11am in my '87 LeBaron sitting on chromed-plastic 14's, and they still had them in stock. By the next year, I had discovered eBay, and that people on it would pay good money for things that stores often had for free after mail in rebate. i got to the store that had the earliest opening - I think it was Circuit City - soon before they opened, and got a ton of FAR stuff - and repeated the same at several other stores.
I kept this up for several years - I'd be able to go to several stores, pick up a bunch of stuff, and still get back in time to have breakfast with my parents. The last year I did this was probably 2006. Circuit City had a laptop I wanted at some stupidly low price, plus a bunch of FAR stuff with it, and I got there at midnight. And was still too late.
So I switched to online, and I did pretty well the last few years. This year, I got a handful of small items, but not as much as I had in previous years. I did buy a 32" LCD TV - a $196 Haier from Newegg - which will go in my basement in front of my treadmill, replacing a 16" which i'll sell. $196 is a great deal for a TV, considering they were about twice that a year or two ago, but $199 flat panels have been available pretty widely at Amazon and other places. I did miss a couple good but short lived deals thanks to being asleep, but for the most part there just aren't that many out there anymore, online or in stores.
What's funny is that when there were awesome deals, there was very little hype, but now you've got stores opening at midnight and customers using pepper spray on fellow customers at Wal-Mart like they were some kind of OWS protesters. And yet those people are skipping sleep and committing felonies to get stuff at prices that aren't all that great, and are often available online.
So why has black Friday gotten so black? On the B&M (brick and mortar, ie "real") side, I think part of it is that retailers have gotten smart - they've realized that giving stuff away to people who will do anything to save a buck isn't making them money, it's costing them money. The mail-in rebate, which was the means that many of my deals from yesteryear came from, have gotten much more rare - a combination of shady and incompetent rebate processors and manufacturers and customers who were too lazy to read the fine print and follow the rules. And many of the B&M stores that used to be Black Friday destinations are gone - like Circuit CIty, CompUSA, and (at least where i spend Thanksgiving) OfficeMax.
On the online side, there are a number of reasons things have cooled - companies have realized that losing money or selling at cost isn't going to make them a profit, and that most online customers are price-sensitive and won't turn into loyal customers. Fewer rebates, for the same reasons as above. And, just like at brick and mortar stores, there is a lot more media hype about the deals online, so there are more people chasing fewer items.
One of the big developments this year has been stores opening earlier - some at midnight - and people who feel it's the end of the world and unfair to employees. While I understand that it probably isn't fun for some employees and their families, there are a lot of jobs, from restaurants to hospitals to radio stations - whose employees routinely have to work on holidays, and families typically find ways to work around it. And I suspect some employees don't mind the extra hours and extra money. But the funny thing is that this isn't anything new - for years before their bankruptcy, I remember CompUSA having "midnight madness" sales. And no, I never went to one.
i suspect Black Friday will never be what it was a decade or so ago. I wonder, though, if at some point there will be a backlash - if the combination of mediocre deals, idiot customers, and media hype will persuade people to stop going.