Black Friday brings our fear of scarcity to full bloom
By Brandon Ferdig
Greed isn't reserved for the rich, and it isn't an all-or-nothing, good-or-evil proposition. Greed is a sneaky foe that creeps up on us normal folks, too.
All alone on Thanksgiving night, I decided to get out of the house and witness the annual slice of Americana known as Black Friday to see what all the fuss was about.
Snow was falling as I approached the Buffalo, Minn., Walmart. Bad weather almost kept me from going; I wondered if others would feel the same way. Apparently not. It was 10 p.m., and a line of cars was parading into the parking lot. I could see several cars driving through the rows of parked cars looking for a spot. I got lucky when I saw a car pulling out of its spot; and in the spirit of a Black Friday shopper I drove the wrong way down the lane to get it.
I'd never seen a store so busy. Hordes of people lined the checkout aisles. People pushed carts filled with big items. I was walking back along the left side of the store — the food section, but there were still bunches of people with electronics in their carts. Item bins with once-a-year deals dotted the wide aisle, and a group of shoppers surrounded two women handing out what looked like brochures. Turned out they were rain checks good for sale-priced iPads, and they were only giving these rain checks away from 10 to 11 p.m.
Interestingly, the crowd got thicker as I made my way to a far corner of the store. People with carts filed around the meat coolers. I wondered, "What kind of Black Friday deal do they have on meat?"
None. The idea was to keep long lines for popular items spread out around the store. So we had a 32-inch TV in the frozen foods section, a 40-incher in the pasta aisle, a 50-incher in automotive, and a couple of lines for laptops in sporting goods. The 40-inch TV was going for $200.
None of the deals, by themselves, were noteworthy. But taken together, they suggested something wacky about it all. They were good deals, but were they worth the wait and the inconvenience and the late-night drive in the snow? From what I gathered, most people were there to shop for themselves.
And then I discovered something about myself. I was near the lines where the TVs were given out. Rather suddenly, I thought about whether I could afford such an item and how it would be nice in my room.
I was infected.
Snapping out of it, I reminded myself that I have a perfectly good TV in my room that goes perfectly unwatched most every day. The idea of having something new and shiny, though, can be a strong lure, and with all the others doing it, I suppose a mob mentality kicked in, too. Yet TVs are always there in department stores. So why the increased urge to buy one on this night?
The obvious answer is price, but I don't think that solves it. I can get a TV on eBay that's probably nicer and cheaper.
I think the reduced price and the limited number in stock foster a mentality of scarcity. We become worried about missing out, of not getting something while the gettin' is good. It's the deep fear we all have of not having enough, and the result is the defect: greed.
It's triggered when there's a good price on something. It's really triggered when something is free.
Last winter I worked at a restaurant, and I got in trouble because I took home some leftovers following a catered event. The food was going to be tossed, so I knowingly broke the rules and boxed some up.
On my way home after work, and after getting scolded by my manager, I thought back about what triggered my decision to sneak back there and grab the food. It baffled me. My instincts had told me that I better get that food before it was tossed, yet my logical brain knew that I had plenty of food at home, that I made enough money to buy more.
I noticed from there on out that food getting tossed out really bugged me — not because of the waste, necessarily, but because of a vague notion that I was missing out. During those times when management permitted us to dish up, gathering the food became more important than actually having it at home in the fridge. The concern of not having enough caused me to be greedy.
I'm no billionaire fleecing the poor. The only difference is that the billionaire uses his greed to get stinking rich; I used mine to seek excess food and get into trouble at work; and the people at Walmart were led by theirs to "save" $80 while spending $150 on a luxury.