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Real Talk: The Dark Side of Black Friday

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Black Friday
I love a bargain. And I know you do too. But I always avoid Black Friday. Something just feels wrong about spending Thanksgiving Day being thankful for what matters -- family, friends, health, etc. -- then heading out to a store before dawn to turn over my hard-earned money to retailers, and rack up debt on a credit card. That, and I can’t take the madness of people pushing, screaming, and charging for the chance at a discount. I wait for today, Cyber Monday, to find online discounts from the comfort of my iPad and without all the hassle.

But clearly, I’m in the minority. A record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the four-day holiday weekend starting on Thanksgiving Day, up from 212 million last year, according to early estimates by The National Retail Federation released on Sunday. Shoppers also spent more. The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 over the weekend, up from $365.34 a year ago. Online shopping did well too, with a 24.3 percent increase in online spending on Black Friday, according to IBM, which tracks sales at 500 online retailers.

Sales are up, and so is the mania. I read multiple reports of people acting a fool trying to save cash. The Associated Press detailed the frenzy in a story aptly entitled, “How Did Black Friday Devolve Into This?”

The AP reported, “A woman turned herself in to police after allegedly pepper-spraying 20 other customers at a Los Angeles-area Walmart on Thursday in what investigators said was an attempt to get at a crate of Xbox video game consoles." In Kinston, N.C. a security guard also pepper-sprayed customers seeking electronics before the start of a midnight sale.

“In New York, crowds reportedly looted a clothing store in Soho. At a Walmart near Phoenix, a man was bloodied while being subdued by a police officer on suspicion of shoplifting a video game. There was a shooting outside a store in San Leandro, Calif., shots fired at a mall in Fayetteville, N.C. and a stabbing outside a store in Sacramento, N.Y."

Experts blame the shopping related violence on a bad combination of “desperate retailers and cutthroat marketing,” which resulted in stores opening earlier, some even on Thanksgiving night, and extreme deals.

“There’s an awful lot of psychology going on here,” Jacob Jacoby, an expert on consumer behavior at New York University, told the AP. “There’s the notion of scarcity -- when something‘s scarce it’s more valued. And a resource that can be very scarce is time: If you don’t get there in time, it’s going to be gone."

Maybe it's time to let the mall go -- and go online. But then maybe that’s just me again. Many shoppers find the fussing, jostling, and jockeying thrilling. Black Friday crazy isn’t an excuse to avoid the stores; it’s an excuse to go.

“If I’m going to get shot,” Betty Thomas told the AP, “at least let me get a good deal.”

Really?

If you headed to the stores on Black Friday, how was your experience?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk
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