Thursday, November 27, 2008

12 Reasons to Avoid Black Friday

As I sit here with my pants not only unbuttoned but unapologetically unzipped following the overeating marathon that is Thanksgiving, I can only imagine the frantic preparations that are taking place in retail stores everywhere in anticipation of the hordes that will beat down the doors in mere hours.

Yes, as the boys battle out the forces of good and evil on the X-Box while the older folks trade valuable tidbits of gossip (mostly about how to score free medication or where to stock up on the cheapest salmon per pound), I can finally slouch over in front of my computer, catch up on emails, and give my overstuffed gut some room to breathe. After 2 Thanksgiving dinners at 2 different family members' houses -- complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and various assortments of pie -- I look forward to nothing more than snoozing late the day after Thanksgiving and slumming in my bathrobe and slippers. Maybe catching a few deals online with the couple dozen coupons that inundate my inbox daily. Or, maybe just trolling the silent halls of eBay to see if I can find that obscure J.Crew sweater from seasons past or an unloved Coach bag that someone is trading up.

Probably the last thing on my mind, as I yawn and stretch luxuriously in my favorite chair in the pleasantly serene office that I share with the dining set and the cat's sun chair, is bolting out of bed in just a few hours, rushing out into the cold, and making a beeline for an overcrowded parking lot at the nearest mall. Yet, that is exactly what tens of millions of Americans do every single year. Beginning in the bitter, dark, wee hours of the pre-morning, mobs of rabid shoppers pumped up on caffeine and possibly amphetamines camp out in front of strip malls across the country waiting for the air horn to sound the alarm at opening hour. At precisely that magic moment, the feeding frenzy begins. Masses upon human masses literally swarm in through all accessible entrances and proceed to ravage the interior of the retail establishment, filling up carts and hauling armfuls of bargains to the checkout until only crushed boxes are left in the shell of a store. That's just in the first 10 minutes.

In the 10 minutes that ensue, you can witness a deliciously naughty array of psychological experiments gone awry as 3000 sleep-deprived, cranky people lose all sense of civility and effectively start to beat each other silly over the last free iPod or $500 Sony television. That's when it gets really good. Intelligent people start grunting and hooting like orangutans and and normally docile PTA moms rip each other's hair out while fighting over Wii games and Wonder Pets “This is Serious!” Ming-Ming from Fisher Price - both on this year's "Hot Dozen" toy list. People have been known to bite, stab, and break each other's limbs. It goes without saying that many have been trampled almost to death. Even Canadians and Mexicans join in each year as thousands drive across the borders to partake in our version of the running of the bulls. If you haven't experienced it, you're missing quite a spectacle. Wal-Mart and Best Buy seem to bring in the most festivities. Just observe some of the Black Friday madness on You Tube:

Clearly, there are those who would disagree with my assessment. The early bird gets the worm on Black Friday, and to many, it's worth the Olympic tribulations. According to Wallet Pop, here are some things the winners hope to score in the coming hours: At Wal-Mart, "doorbusters from 5am to 11am include $15 Blu-ray discs, $2 DVDs, a $15 Shop-Vac, $10 toys and a $199 X-Box." At Target (among my perennial favorites), "the big price drop is on a 26" HDTV from Westinghouse for $299, but there's also a $99.99 GPS system, a $69 digital camcorder, video games as low as $7 and $44 iPod dock." Best Buy -- never one to disappoint -- will be offering slashed prices on HDTVs and doorbusters like "an $899 50" Viera HDTV... a $59.99 digital camera, a $379 Toshiba laptop and Guns n' Roses new album for $11.99." Wow, the new G 'N' R album, really? Just for that, I might stay up all night and camp out with the rest of the foaming-at-the-mouth population. Not to be outdone, Circuit City will be doorbusting out "a 42" Samsung HDTV for $699.99 or a $79.99 Samsung digital camera or $2.00 DVDs and CDs."

Fighting, screaming, gnashing of teeth? No thanks, I'll take Purgatory. Heck, I barely get the nerve to go to Wal-Mart on a slow day. And it's almost impossible to find parking at Tysons Corner Center (our version of Rodeo Drive) on any given Saturday. Even the 2 weeks before December 25th is the Nightmare before Christmas in the stores. Between the long lines, impatient shoppers, crying children, and nauseatingly cheerful music, my eyes see stars and my head just spins.

"What?" my friend barks upon hearing that I'll be sitting this wrestling mania out. A bargain princess like me miss such valuable shopping opportunities so I can rest in bed, read magazines, watch movies, and enjoy a perfectly percolated coffee? You betcha!

To add insult to injury (literally), the Black Friday madness has started to spill over into Thanksgiving Day, a previously hallowed day of family bonding in relative calm. While I sit here and write this, I am alerted to frequent update reports that 18 major retailers have now pre-empted the Friday frenzy and started giving away deals online. As we speak, Wal-Mart peddles the X-Box 360 Thanksgiving Day Value Bundle starting at $288, a $60 savings (too bad it's already sold out). Target is throwing out Guitar Hero World Tour Bundle for Wii at a rock-bottom $59. Or, you can get a real, bonafide guitar for just $69. Take that, Nintendo.

Truthfully, after perusing the promised land of doorbusters and online bargains, I'm not hugely impressed. A few of the deals look tantalizing, but some of the deals, like $100 off a $1700 HDTV, doesn't make me jump out of my seat. That's why I've always held out for the after-holiday sales. Combined with the feeding frenzy that promises to ensue, I can think of better ways to spend the day after Thanksgiving.

Stop the insanity! Don't give in to the madness of Black Friday! Celebrate "Do Nothing Day" instead. I promise your world won't come to an end. Folks, you heard it here first. Need more reasons to avoid the malls tomorrow? Here are 12:

1. You can sleep in and still catch a matinee with the whole family or friends who are in town. With the money you'll save off current movie prices, you can buy a tub of popcorn and a family-sized box of candy with no guilt whatsoever!

2. Two words: homemade waffles. They're not just for breakfast anymore.

3. Sure, beating the crap out of the next-door neighbor (the one who always lets his dog poop in your yard) for the last doorstopper digital camera deal at Best Buy is satisfying. Even more satisfying is sneaking over the fence before he returns from the stores and installing a giant dartboard pattern in Christmas lights right on door. Score extra points for relocating a family of gnomes to his rooftop.

4. Instead of spending money, why not invest what you would have spent at the stores? In 2007, the average Black Friday consumer spent $347. If you invest that amount and it earns an annually compounded interest rate of 9%, you'll have... a whopping $821.48 in 10 years! Okay, maybe the Jimmy Choos on sale are a better investment.

5. You can get a head start on writing Christmas cards. You'll need all the goodwill you can muster when people find out you're not getting them presents this year.

6. Another J.Crew discount code will come around sooner or later. If you can swallow the monstrously indecent shipping charges, you can finally buy those ridiculously overpriced but beautiful and perfectly-printed heels you've been eyeing. Oh, and maybe pick up some shearling earmuffs and Fair Isle sweaters for you pooch.

7. I'll bet the DMV is is eerily empty the day after Thanksgiving...

8. Can you think of a better time to catch up on all those missed episodes of The Office?

9. You're still paying off your credit card from the whole year's worth of "bargains." Sheesh!

10. If you're dying to run like hell and sweat it out with your arms full of heavy objects, at least put on some superfly workout gear and get your butt to the gym. Something tells me the proportion of hot buff men to women will be about 20:1 on Black Friday. The low-hanging fruit is ripe for the picking, gals.

11. eBay is always waiting for you with a can't-miss deal. You might even edge out the competition if you swipe the unwanteds while everyone else is out shopping.

12. You value life and limb, and you'll need both to shop the after-Christmas sales.

Happy Thanksgiving!