Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bloody Black Friday

by Felicia Donovan

In these financially trying times, it is understandable that everyone wants to get the best deal for their hard-earned money. I happen to have been one of the crazy people who roused myself out of bed at 4AM to be at the major chain retailer by 5AM to scoop up a 6-hour pre-holiday bargain.

Imagine my shock when I rolled into the parking lot by 4:50AM only to discover at least 200 folks, some of whom had been there for over an hour, lined up and wrapped all the way around the parking lot to the back of the store. I joined the surge of folks just arriving and was politely told by a group of employees who had formed a human barricade, to get to the back of the line. No problem. The others were there first. More employees nourished the cold and sleepy crowd with offerings of free hot coffee and fresh donuts. It was calm. People laughed and chatted with each other about what they were there to buy.

At 5AM, the doors opened and the crowd was allowed in slowly. By 5:05, I was in and headed towards the very mobbed electronics department. Still, people were polite. I quickly located my target - a large gift for a family member. Despite everyone trying to grab their desired prize before it ran out, I had no less than four offers of assistance in getting the unweildly gift into my cart.

I snatched up a couple of discounted video games as well, and made my way towards the front of the store to the registers. The crowd politely gave me room to steer the large box around, sometimes backing up to give me right of way. It was crowded. It was crazy, but it was controlled and calm. Extra workers stood at the front of the store helping customers and checking their register receipts. I received even more offers of assistance in getting the item into my car.

Imagine my shock and disbelief when I read the account of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year old seasonal Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, NY. According to news reports, the police had to be called around 3AM because the crowd was out of control. A police officer with a bullhorn pleaded for calm.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 became unruly. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in as a result. The crowd surged forward and Damour was thrown to the tile floor. Fellow Wal-Mart employees desperately tried to get to Damour but could not keep back the surging crowd. Four other people, including a 28-year old woman who was eight-months pregnant, had to be taken to the hospital.

I'm all for finding a bargain and I'll admit I saved a substantial chunk of change by going out on Black Friday, but somewhere we have to draw the line between finding bargains and behaving like a bunch of bulls stampeding in the streets of Pamplona.

What in heaven's name has gotten into people?

Kudos to the employees and shoppers of my local Wal-Mart, the same chain involved in the trampling, who maintained order and acted like decent human beings. There's no bargain, ever, worth the cost of a human life.


Jess Lourey said...

Fascinating post, Felicia. I'm going to use it as a springboard to get onto my issue of the sadness of this consumer culture we've helped to create in the U.S., where "things" are more important than people. The holidays are a good time as any to stop buying empty possessions that will be junk in five-ten years and instead spend our money on people (there are many amazing charities out there), time with the people who are important to us (a family vacation creates a memory that lasts much longer than a toy), and other waste-free gifts (this site is great:
That said, I'm as guilty as the next person of buying my kids too much stuff. I'm working on it.

Jess Lourey said...

Oh, and books are of course the exception to the rule. Books are always a great, lasting gift. ;)

Felicia Donovan said...

Jess, thanks for your comments and the great links.

My children always remind me about my longstanding comment about books always being plentiful around the house. I guess it's the one thing in this world I don't mind spending full price on, especially if I've had the opportunity to meet an author and show my support.

For everything else, there's discounts. Deep discounts, just not life-threatening ones...

Mark Combes said...

I find the psychology of crowds very interesting - and there are as many models to describe why crowds/mobs act as they do as there are psychologists.
We humans are strange creatures. Crush someone to death so that we can show our love to another by getting them the perfect gift. Irony doesn't come close to describing it.

Keith Raffel said...

Here's what Daniel Gilbert, Dr. Happiness at Harvard, has to say:

"We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.

"We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy — money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do “wise shopping” for happiness.

"Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure in experiences than in things. So if you have “x” amount of dollars to spend on a vacation or a good meal or movies, it will get you more happiness than a durable good or an object. One reason for this is that experiences tend to be shared with other people and objects usually aren’t."

G.M. Malliet said...

A few years ago, I looked around at all the "stuff" I owned and began a systematic clearing out. I'm still working on it - we have way, way more than we need. The van from Disabled Veterans comes by about every three months and amazingly, I always have things, especially clothing, to give away.

My husband asks what I want for my birthday, Christmas, etc., and I always say something like "France" or "Italy." I am glad there is scientific proof that we're on the right track.

Felicia Donovan said...

Everyone seems to be like-minded in that we're all a little tired of "things" being the priority over people.

Keith, I like the definition of happiness you offer. Time spent with friends and family - that really is what it's all about, isn't it?

Gin, I'm with you. I'm happiest in my minimalist lifestyle and forever running to GoodWill. Then I think about the folks who lose everything to natural disasters. What do they really value the most when all is said and done? That everyone came out unscathed. "Things" can be replaced. People cannot. Memories can always be treasured.

jbstanley said...

I avoid shopping on Black Friday like the Black Plague. I start in August and do a lot online. I'm not a fan of crowds in general, so people lurching into my personal space to grab a Wii isn't my idea of fun! Glad you got what you were going for though.