How Black Friday Brings Out the Needy and Greedy in All

Here’s a glimpse into the madness for all the suckers who were too good and lazy for (or—admit it—afraid of) Black Friday shopping. These ravenous shoppers show you what the holidays are REALLY all about…

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.

I approached the Buffalo, MN Walmart on this dark, snowy night. Bad weather almost kept me from going; I wondered if others would feel the same way. Apparently not. It was 10 pm and there was the Super Store ahead on my left. I clicked my blinker downward—as did the few cars ahead of me—and we paraded into the gigantic parking lot. I could see several cars driving through the rows of parked cars looking for a spot for their own. I got real lucky when I saw a car pulling out of its spot; and I demonstrated the courage of the Black Friday wundershopper when I drove the wrong way down the lane to get it. Still, it was a hike to the entrance.

I’d never seen a store so busy before! And this was even more noteworthy because it was past 10:00 pm. Hoards of people lined the check-out aisles, and many carts all around the store were full of big items:

Many of these items were the same large, flat, blue, and white boxes visible on the right.

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 on-sale iPads, and they were only giving these rain checks away from 10-11pm.

Interestingly, the crowd got thicker as I made my way to far corner of the store. People in carts filed around the meat coolers:

I actually thought, “What kind of Black Friday deal do they have on meat?!”

Um, none.

The gist of this set up was to keep long lines for hot 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 lines for laptops in sporting goods.

I chatted with a couple of the folks eager for their $150 32 incher:

I’m betting that TV is going to make a sweet partner to that onsale Xbox/backrest they got in their cart.

A couple aisles over it was a $200 40″ TV.

I wandered to the automotive because my brand new used old car is without a cup holder. I got a little counsel caddie for $4 and change. :)  Now this is why I love Walmart! Next to me were people sitting down in the auto aisle waiting for a 50 inch television to be handed out. I don’t know how long they were waiting—long enough to sit and create a line of sitters that filled half of a long Walmart aisle. I overhead one lady sitter talking about how she wished she would have gotten a number to wait for the TV in the next section over. It was one of those new Smart TV’s.

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None of these examples, by themselves, was noteworthy: people coming for a good deal, the lady wishing for the better TV, a person buying two TVs. But taken together, I gathered enough evidence to suggest that there was something wacky about it all. They were good deals, but was it worth the wait and the inconvenience of driving at 10 pm in the snow? I’m thinking dollars and cents would tell me it didn’t make sense. Also, from what I gathered, most were there to shop for themselves, dumping a significant amount of money on luxuries that they had to wait awhile for.

But I have to confess my own pull toward the wacky. I went to the head of the lines where the TVs were given out:

Here you go, Ma’am. 64 inches of entertainment.

Rather suddenly, I thought about how/if I could afford such an  item, 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 everyday. The idea of having something new and shiny, though, can be a strong idea, 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 than the ones here this night.

My theory is that the reduced price and the limited number in stock has people in a mentality of scarcity. We become worried about missing out, of not getting something while the gettin’s 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 it’s free…

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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 action to sneak back there and grab the food. It baffled me because my instincts told me that I better get that food before it gets tossed, yet my logic knew that I had plenty of food at home, that I made a 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 some vague notion that I was missing out on this chance for free food. I’d realize it was a fear-driven action when, during those times where management permitted us servers to dish up, gathering the food was always 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, but the only difference here was that this 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 who were subject to this fault were led by it and a love for things shiny and new to focus on the fact that they’re “saving” $80 while spending $150 on a luxury.

—Photo Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/Flickr

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About Brandon Ferdig

Brandon Ferdig is writer from Minneapolis, MN. He shares his personal growth pieces, human interest stories, and commentary at his blog. He is currently writing a book titled New Plateaus in China, a compilation of travelogue, personal experience, human interest, and social observations from China. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @brandonferdig.

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