Posted by: Dan Beucke on November 25, 2011 at 2:00 PM
It’s now official: 2011 will go down as the Year of Pepper Spray. First, the incidents of police spraying Occupy demonstrators in New York and at UC Davis. And today, police and fire officials in Los Angeles say a Wal-Mart shopper used pepper spray “to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store” during a Black Friday shopping frenzy.
For many of us, this is yet more confirmation that it’s wiser to sleep in the Friday after Thanksgiving and let others storm the mall at midnight. It’s also a chance to look at what this holiday shopping phenomenon says about the income and wealth debate. Is there a class divide among Black Friday shoppers and those who stay home? That’s the claim in a story in yesterday’s New York Times:
Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home.
On the surface, this seems obvious. Nordstrom didn’t hold a “door buster” midnight sale. It didn’t need to; as Accenture points out in its holiday analysis, luxury retailers are expected to see a bump in spending this season. And the folks who lined up outside the Roosevelt Field mall on Long Island, N.Y., and the Orland Square Mall outside Chicago certainly don’t look like a lot of 1-percenters. (What they do look like is mostly young; clearly on Black Friday these are no malls for old men.)
I talked with Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, which studies consumers and retailing. He spent last night and today observing shoppers in malls in Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Yes, some shoppers were clearly into the “sport” of Black Friday, he said. Nearly all, though, were trying to stretch a tight budget — most of them on low and middle incomes. What most struck him was not the rush to get into the stores but what happened in the checkout lines. Time and again, Cohen saw consumers whose shopping reach had exceeded their spending grasp. A credit card maxes out and a member of the shopping party is sent outside to collect another card from the waiting car. Or the cashier offers up a sub-total and the shopper starts striking items until the bill fits the cash on hand.
The stores have done a masterful job of creating excitement around this supposed first day of the holiday shopping season. This has spawned a number of myths: that this weekend sucks in an ever-larger share of holiday spending, that it is a good indication of how the holiday shopping season will go, and that Black Friday discounts are the biggest of the year.
Shoppers actually told Accenture they were less likely to shop this Black Friday than they were the last couple of years. And Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics, found a slight inverse relationship between Black Friday sales performance and that of the overall holiday season. To quote his report: “Robust sales on Black Friday may simply reflect households bringing forward some of their intended holiday spending rather than a sign that spending over the whole holiday season will be strong.”
As for the legendary deals, computer scientist Oren Etzioni showed the Times why the best prices for electronic gadgets don’t come until early December. And Emily Co at the SavvySugar personal finance website found a number of door-buster deals that could be topped elsewhere.
Is the class divide another Black Friday myth? We should know more later this weekend, when NPD delivers a more detailed description of shoppers’ ages, incomes, and other characteristics. In the meantime, rest easy that deals will also be served to those who sit and wait … and listen to Steely Dan.
(Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)