Friday, November 23, 2012

Here It Comes!

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we must adjust our thinking and accept that it's time to focus on Christmas.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was standing in line at the local butcher's counter waiting to pick up my fresh turkey. (BTW, if you ever have a chance to order a fresh turkey instead of a frozen zombie bird, please do so. The taste is entirely different.) A tune was playing on a speaker, barely audible above the shoppers' voices. That tune was "Silent Night." Wednesday's date was November 21, over a month before Christmas.

Doesn't that seem a bit premature? Could there have been a single customer in the store who didn't realize that another holiday was lurking just over the horizon? Couldn't we go another week or two before commencing with the carols?

The newspaper yesterday morning -- Thanksgiving morning -- consisted of very little news and 15 pounds of advertising flyers. Everyone recognizes that holiday business amounts to a huge percentage of annual earnings for retailers. But perhaps they could take the money spent on newspaper advertising and use those funds to reduce the prices a few dollars. Everyone would benefit.

I have never understood what mania drives folks to camp out days in advance of Black Friday hoping to score some big item at a steep discount. The news on Monday --November 19 -- showed some folks in Florida already camped out in front of some big box store, awaiting the arrival of Friday. They had pitched tents and were cooking hot dogs on the grill as though they were about to tailgate. Actually they were waiting to spend money four days later. One of the men said that his mother would come down and see the group on Thanksgiving, bringing her good dishes and plenty of food.

Statistically, the Black Friday purchase prices do not represent huge discounts. They bring in customers and attract media attention. However, the same widgets that are discounted 15% for Black Friday will likely be stacked on the shelves in a week or two at 25% off. Some stores will naturally panic when sales aren't as high as expected and will continue to reduce prices repeatedly until Christmas in order to bring up their revenue.

Black Friday is truly a media-inspired event. It brings out the cameras to show footage on television of shoppers bursting through the doors. Local newspapers cover the sales, too, plastering photos on the front page of the "lucky" ones who resisted the need to bathe and changes clothes for days on end to save $2.35 on a sweater. The media does its best to make the non-attendees feel as though they have missed the boat.

I don't stand in line to pay for things, with a few exceptions. The grocery store, of course, often requires that we stand in line. But if a store really wants my money, they will either have enough cashiers available to speed up the process or I go elsewhere. Several years ago I was in the pre-Christmas shopping spirit at a Gap in Chicago. Sweaters were cute and available at a drastic reduction. So I took my purchases and headed happily toward the check out. Then I realized that the cashier's line was longer than the line I had endured to help elect Bill Clinton (first term). The voter line had a purpose. The Gap's line did not. I put my items down and left the store.

When I lived in Northern Virginia, I recall one after-Christmas sale extravaganza at a large shopping mall. The anchor stores had been advertising huge cuts and here was my big chance to find a bargain on the latest fashions. I arrived early, money and credit cards at hand. However, there was NO place to park. Recognizing how large parking lots are in comparison to the actual shopping area, I was undeterred at first. I drove around and around through the filled aisles until it suddenly occurred to me how foolish was my behavior.

In those days, I had virtually two days a week to take care of chores like buying groceries, hair salon trips, retrieval of dry cleaning, accessing veterinary care -- all the things that many folks squeeze in throughout the week. Living as I did and working long days meant frivolous tasks were allotted time only on weekends. So why was I driving around on a Saturday trying to give folks my money when I could be doing something more important? After a few more turns through the aisles, I went home and put my feet on the coffee table.

Spending money is bad enough, especially in these hard times. But buying holiday decorations or gifts should not be a Herculean task. A bargain is where you find it. And sometimes, all it takes is the click of a mouse. So that is exactly how I plan to shop this season -- again.

Long live online shopping!

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