Tuesday 15 October 2019

Black Friday is a present from America we should refuse

Shoppers wrestle over a television as they compete to purchase retail items on
Shoppers wrestle over a television as they compete to purchase retail items on "Black Friday" at an Asda superstore in Wembley, north London yesterday
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Last Friday I naively popped into Smyths Toys to buy my niece a birthday present. Big mistake… huge.

Unaware that it was 'Black Friday' - yes, I do realise that makes me sound as if I live in an underground cave - I was surprised to see the car park so full.

However, it was only when I got to the entrance of the shop that I realised something was seriously afoot.

People were charging around pushing huge trolleys laden down with super-sized toys. The checkout queues were long and winding. There was a palpable feeling of frenzy in the air.

I felt my pulse begin to race. What was going on? What had I missed? There can only be one explanation for this kind of frenzy - a sale!

I stopped a harried-looking shop assistant to ask her what was going on. She turned on me. "We don't have any left" she shouted.

What?

"Sorry," she said, seeing my puzzled face. "I thought you were looking for the singing Elsa dolls. We're sold out and I've had people asking me all morning and getting very irate when they realised we had none left."

Of course, now I wanted this singing Elsa doll, too. If people were getting so wound up about procuring one, it must be very special. It must be incredible. It must be the most amazing doll in the world. Who cared that I didn't have the first clue about it? I needed one. I had to have one. I was going to find one.

"How do you get one?" I asked in a hushed tone

The shop assistant's eyes flicked nervously from left to right. She leant in and whispered: "We're hoping to get an order in next week. You can leave a deposit of €10 if you want to have any hope of getting one."

I looked over at the long queue of agitated parents waiting to put a deposit on a doll that may or may not turn up. A sensible person would have left the shop at that point. I, however, rushed over and joined the back of the queue.

After about ten minutes, reality began to sink into my shopping-addict brain. I realised that I was standing in a queue to put a deposit down on a doll I didn't want, had previously never heard of and knew nothing about. And all the while I had forgotten my reason for going to the shop in the first place, to buy a gift for my niece.

However, my excited reaction to news of a bargain and subsequent queuing for an elusive toy is not out of the ordinary. In fact, utter chaos ensued last Friday, as shoppers literally beat each other up to get their bargains.

In Britain, where some shops began their Black Friday sales at 12.01am, police were called to several stores as riots broke out over cut-price goods. At a Tesco in Manchester, a man was arrested after telling a staff member that he would "smash their face in". In another branch of a major retailer a woman was hit by a falling television.

Ian Hopkins, deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, said: "People need to take a long, hard look at themselves and ask: 'What on Earth was I doing?'"

He has a point. People behave like lunatics when a bargain is on offer. In the US a Walmart worker was killed during a stampede on Black Friday. The www.blackfridaydeathcount website claims there have been nine deaths and 96 injuries so far.

Why do we behave like savages when we see a sale sign? According to David Lewis, psychologist and author of 'The Brain Sell: When Science Meets Shopping', there are three key elements in place that make us go bonkers.

First, we all like a bargain and the high that goes with it.

Who hasn't felt that rush of pleasure when they find a great deal?

Second, when we are in a large crowd, we tend to copy one another's behaviours (I certainly was guilty of that in Smyth's).

Finally, when people get excited, they get a very narrow focus. Suddenly, you see only one thing - the cheap TV - and nothing else matters. You will step over people, push and grab to get what you want.

Owning the item becomes the most important thing in your life, far more important than any benefit you will ever get from owning it.

Black Friday is a new phenomenon here and in Britain. We have inherited it from the US where traditionally big sales start on the first Friday after Thanksgiving. I'm not sure it's something that we need.

There are still over three weeks until Christmas. Maybe it's time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Is any gift really worth risking injury for?

Irish Independent

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