It seems Black Friday countdowns start earlier each year. We were barely into October this year and I noticed them cropping up. For the dedicated bargain hunters among us, the lead up to Black Friday involves making a shopping list, coordinating with others and planning a route. Then, on Thanksgiving night, waiting in lines in the freezing cold.
Last year I participated in the Black Friday mayhem for the first time. I was in the market for a new laptop, and figured Black Friday was the time to strike. The cheapest I could find was at a big box store for $159.
So when Thanksgiving came I grabbed my gloves, hat and scarf and ventured out. I must have been out there two hours, but it felt like five. When they let us in at midnight the real chaos started. Everyone (including me) was sleep deprived and zombie-like. Manners were apparently left at home, as people bumped against each other and ran over anything in the way.
I made my way to the electronics department and stood in yet another line to get my ticket, which would then allow me to claim my laptop. About a half hour after entering the store I had my prize in hand. After waiting in yet another line at the checkout, I made my exit.
Why do millions of Americans put themselves through this every year? I only went to one store, but some people visit several into the wee hours.
It’s all about the deals, right? Well what if I told you that Black Friday isn’t necessarily the best time of year to find bargains?
That’s precisely what the Wall Street Journal found. In their article The Myth of the Black Friday Deal, they explain that most items are cheaper earlier in the shopping season, while some go down in price as you get closer to Christmas Day. Flat screen TVs, jewelry, watches, and toys are cheaper in October, while stuff that didn’t sell well during Black Friday is discounted closer to Christmas. Household items like blenders and mixers are often in the latter category.
Now that we’ve proven good deals aren’t a reason to stand in line, how else might we justify it? Let’s turn to our brains to find the answer.
After our basic needs of food and shelter are met, we aim to be accepted by others. One way we’ve found to do this is to seek social proof: We stand in lines so others will see us standing in lines.
Because consumption is king in our culture, people who consume are “cool”. We believe that others’ opinions of us will be positive if they see us in line to buy the newest iPhone or a 55 inch flat screen.
Aha! Who knew a basic concept of psychology could explain one of our culture’s most popular rituals? MarketWatch calls it “queue chic”, and explains that waiting in line is a shared experience. This fits in with another basic human characteristic: We are social beings. It’s in our nature to associate with others and share our lives with them. In our quest to gain their acceptance, we want to be seen as making the right buying decisions.
So if you’re going shopping on Black Friday to prove how cool you are or to share the experience with others, fine. But if you’re going for the deals, don’t bother. As the Wall Street Journal says, you’re probably wasting your time.
As for my laptop, it turned out to be a dud. It froze up every time I played a video, so I returned it a week later and bought an iPad instead. Last year’s Black Friday excursion will be my one and only.