And here it was: the question. Every year I get it from a caller as I was talking on the radio about Black Friday and the holiday retail season: "Aren't you upset about how all this materialism and all this talk about shopping is ruining the meaning of Christmas?"
The simple answer is no. I am quite happy about it and proud of it—and feel good to be part of it. Our founders had it right when they said that we are endowed by our creator (their words not mine) with certain inalienable rights: "life , liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Bam. Not my words—their words.
Who are "they" to tell me I am doing something wrong by shopping? Who are "they" to tell 78 million Americans that there is something wrong with shopping on Black Friday weekend, spending upwards of 70 billion dollars? Who are "they" to tell retailers that they are wrong to try to maximize profitability by staying open late and even going to Thursday to try to get consumers in the doors? Who are "they" to tell E-retailers that encouraging spending on cyber-Monday is wrong?
Here are the facts: Black Friday is important to retailers and the economy. Our economy is driven by consumer spending. More spending, more stuff, more manufacturing, more jobs on Main Street, more money because people are working, more spending. The hip bone is connected to the ankle bone—you get the idea.
There really is something "magical" about Black Friday. It is one of the busiest shopping days of the year (not the busiest as some seem to say every year). It is a giant pep rally for the American consumer and the American retailer. It affects consumer confidence and we cannot have too much of that, for consumer confidence drives the economy. This is the day that consumers wait for to try and hunt for the Great Bargain, and why should anyone want to stop that? If consumers want to buy things that make others happy and buy things that improve their lives, what in the world is wrong with that? Exactly what the framers had in mind. If stores want to try and jump the gun by starting at midnight on Thursday (there is no penalty) then good for them. I hope it works. It is tough out there for retailers (big and small) and there are only a couple of weapons they have to try to make it—opening hours and sales and E-mail lists—are important ones.
The successful retail businesses I study at Purdue have one thing in common: They are customer obsessed. They understand that to be successful they must work backwards from what the customer wants. If the customer wants sales, give it to them. If the customer wants Black Friday sales, give that to them, too. If the "they" don't want to get up and hunt on Black Friday for that deal, fine. I am not telling them they are wrong. If Middle America wants to get up, I will buy them a Starbucks (just a metaphor).
Holiday shopping brings joy and happiness. Contrary to what we read, people love to shop. Shopping is cheap and easy entertainment. It is social. It is bonding between mother and daughter, father and son, mother and son, father and daughter. It is the embodiment of the American dream as described in the words of our founders: life, liberty , and the pursuit of happiness. I, for one, am happy that "they" don't have the power to stop us. The consumer has the power. I can assure you that if the consumer stays asleep on Thursday and Black Friday, retailers will not open for the holiday and that would not make for a healthy economy—which right now may be the most important thing after world peace, the environment, poverty, education, drug policy. Somewhere in there.
About Richard Feinberg Professor in the Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing at Purdue University
Casey St. Clair Sponsor of the Biggest Black Friday Petition on Change.org.
Sam Sisakhti Founder of UsTrendy
Sandy Kennedy President of the Retail Industry Leaders Association