Friday, November 27, 2020

I Think It's Becoming My Annual Black Friday Post

Looking back on the phrase "Black Friday," it seems I've done a post about this unofficial national holiday every year.  I think sometimes more than once.  You might say, I'm a little curmudgeonly about the whole thing.  
Back when I was a production test technician (between iterations of college) I worked for an electronics manufacturer that shipped on a quarterly system, meaning that orders were booked and the company's financial results were tracked by the quarter.  Since I was in the group doing the final system tests, by the time products got to us, every delay that could have possibly happened had pretty much all happened and things were running late.  To stretch a metaphor, they were pushing the product to get shipped so hard that if you got between the product and the shipping door you'd be crushed to death.  Our shipping department had metal garage doors tall enough to let a semi-trailer back up to the dock so we could roll things in on fork lifts or dollies.  So much product was pushed so hard through those metal doors that the morning after the last day of the quarter there were literally metallic hemorrhoids glistening in the morning sun around the frame of the garage doors.  OK, so maybe I was the only person who could see them.

In the weeks before that, the production expediters would go through the work orders coming into my department and mark which of them were “hot” and should be worked on first.  In the last week or two, pretty much everything was marked that way.  You've probably been wondering where I'm going with this: it's that I told a production coordinator at one time, “when everything's hot, nothing's hot.”  To his befuddled and exasperated expression I calmly explained that nobody can work on everything first, I can only work on one thing first.  Only one thing can be most important.

And now that we're over the target, by extension, when every day is Black Friday, no day can be Black Friday - in the usual sense of a special day that kicks off the Christmas shopping season. 

I don't know about you, but I'm sure I started seeing black Friday ads in July.  For sure, for the last month, I must have been getting 50 to 75 emails a day with black Friday in the subject.

When did this become a national thing?  It seems it must have been within the last five or ten years. 

Black Friday was supposedly called that because it was the day where businesses turned their annual ledgers from red ink to black ink, but in the last few years it seems to have morphed into something else.  It has been reported for years that the big deals aren't necessarily really deals at all, or that some companies raise their prices in the weeks (months?) before the day so that what would have been a normal, small discount from MSRP suddenly seems like a deal.  It's being reported that more and more people are carrying their smartphone into the stores to price check things, compare price and availability at other stores, or get coupons.  I confess: I've done it and not just this time of year. 

Once there started to be a perception that good deals came on Black Friday, it was only a matter of time until it became just another way of saying “BIG SALE!”  But shoppers like to think they're getting big deals, and there are stores that put one or two items on a massive discount to get some people to line up the night before.  Maybe they can get some buzz on the news.  Of course, now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving itself, Friday seems like it loses some drawing power.  Regardless, every year there's some incident where people get violent over something stupid.

It always pays to know what going prices are.  I've heard that generally speaking, the best time for deals is closer to Christmas, especially right before Christmas.  You'll get better prices than this week, but it's a gamble.  You're betting that the stores will be stuck with something you want and would rather discount it than not sell it.  If they sell out first you lose.  If they don't sell out but still won't or can't cut the price, again you lose.  That said, it has worked out for me in the past.  It's sort of like calling a bluff in poker. 

Retail is a rough way to make a living. I'm sure you've heard how airline reservation systems base the seat price on the apparent interest in a flight.  If you go back and check on the price of that seat every week, the system says there must be more demand for that flight and raises the price.  What if stores could measure real time demand and adjust the price.  Say you're looking for a new tool or other gadget; what if they see someone checking the web site regularly and interpret that as several people interested in that item and raised its price?  Would you be upset or offended?  What if they dropped the price to see at what level you can't resist pushing the Glistening, Candy-like, "BUY IT" button?  I don't have any hard evidence that anyone does that, but it seems trivial for an online store to track interest in something.  The biggest risk is scaring away customers.

To me the Golden Rule is the willing seller/willing buyer.  My inner engineer drives me to optimize things, but if people are happy with what they paid, regardless of whether or not it really is "the best price of the year", and the seller is happy with the price they got for it, that's definition of a fair price.  I'm sure not gonna poop in anyone's corn flakes by telling them they didn't get the best price.

Yesterday we took our traditional trip to my brother's house in South Florida, a bit short of 300 miles round trip.  It was a big get-together, with 16 people together.  Since we're not under lockdowns here in Florida, traffic seemed normal. Maybe a little light, but nothing really obvious. I have no idea what the stores will be like, but probably worse if you're in a blue state or city under lockdown. There will be no crowds and no people fighting over the one or two items that had the big discount.  An article on Breitbart shows this Black Friday scene, this morning. 

Jeenah Moon/Getty Images, Macey's Department Store in New York City, this morning.


  1. Good observations. I never cared for the whole "manufactured excitement" thing, and I loathe the crowds at those venues.

    I've worked at places that deliberately shipped defective units just so somebody could "meet their numbers". What was even more appalling was this place also shipped incomplete units if they were a few short to complete an order.

  2. Takes me back, man. I have lived in both worlds....

    In my young days, I did 20 years in retail (managed several departments in a large hardware store). Grew to loathe the Christmas season because of the commercialization overload.

    Fast forward to a later life, 25 years in electronic contract manufacturing. Started out great in the early 90's, finished up as a functional test engineer and retired a couple of years ago. In that time the working world changed from a friendly, quality-driven environment to an intense, revenue-driven one. Production was driven by the end of week/end of month/end of quarter targets, and like you say, as a test engineer I was involved at the end of the line and it could get quite stressful. Hung it up a couple of years ago and don't miss it a bit.

  3. Funny- I regard it as a day of evil- "Black" in the sense of greed, commercialism, materialism, and an absolute denial of both Thanksgiving's message of Gratitude (for what we have been given) and Christmas's message of Hope (in what we shall be given). The outstretched, grasping hand, trying to fill
    the God-shaped hole, with shiny trinkets.

    (I admit to being guilty myself, of wanting to play Santa Claus, especially with my children; in that regard, I am no better than my countrymen.)

    We give gifts at Christ-mass in emulation of the Magi; they brought one gift each, to honor the Christ
    Child. They did not bring a train of booty.

    Christ was born in a manger, and died naked on a cross.

    Ironically, we tend to forget the antecedents of our faith, this time of year, a time when we should most remember them.

    Black Friday indeed.