Black Friday Showdown: “Occupiers” Versus Shoppers

According to news reports, some “Occupy” protesters are calling for “occupation” of outlets of large, publicly traded retailers — that is, virtually every store found in America — tomorrow.  If it happens, it would set up a monumental clash of the titans on the biggest shopping day of the year:

Ladies and gentlemen:  Welcome to the Black Friday throw down!

In this corner, a ragtag band of “Occupy Wall Street” protesters with a bad case of “bed head.”  They’re scruffy, angry, and utterly convinced of the righteousness of their cause. 

And in this corner, legions of amped-up holiday shoppers.  They’ve been up for hours, they’ve chugged gallons of black coffee, and they’re gunning to get all of their holiday shopping done in one stressful 18-hour period. 

The contest has begun!  The Occupy protesters have blocked the door to the Wal-Mart!  They’re doing their annoying human microphone shtick and trying to explain why large corporations suck.

 But the shoppers aren’t listening!  They’ve formed a flying wedge of shopping carts handled by angry plus-sized women who want to take advantage of the big Black Friday sales!  They’re ramming the Occupy protesters.  Wait just a minute!  Some of the shoppers have fainted from that special “Occupy” odor!  And the “Occupiers” are demanding free stuff from the shoppers!

Ladies and gentlemen, the confrontation has turned into a general melee.  The shoppers are clubbing the Occupy protesters with their heavy purses!  But now a phalanx of “Occupy” drummers has entered the fray!  Their loud, discordant drumming has momentarily stunned the shoppers!  Hold on a moment — the shoppers have regrouped!  They’re slashing at the Occupy protesters with the edges of their credit cards, and the Occupy protesters are giving way . . . .

If the “Occupy” protesters follow through with a Black Friday attempt to occupy stores, I’m betting on the shoppers.

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The Economy At Christmas — The View From Central Ohio

The tree at Easton

Yesterday Kish and I went Christmas shopping for a few things.  It was a mistake.   The roads to Easton, our nearby shopping megaplex, were jammed, and when we got there we could not find a parking place.  As we drove through the Easton complex, we saw lots of shoppers, although not many seemed to be carrying multiple bags with their purchases.  We eventually went to a store called World Market, where a fair amount of the goods seemed to be on sale but there were lines at the cash registers.  As I waited for Kish to make her selections I saw a number of shoppers pick up items and consider them, but ultimately put them back on the shelves and move on.  We also visited the nearby wine and liquor shop, which was doing land-office business.  We contributed to their sales, I must admit.

I’m not sure what inferences can be drawn from this one-shot exposure to the Christmas shopping season in central Ohio, but based on that limited experience my guess is that people are out shopping but are being selective and cautious in their purchases and are largely resisting “impulse purchases.”  I also think that buying wine, beer, and liquor for the holidays probably is pretty much immune to economic downturns.

I also think that businesses are pulling in their horns for this holiday season.  At work, I seem to be getting fewer Christmas cards — even of the electronic variety — and there clearly are fewer holiday parties and business gifts being given.  In the past, there were many business-related holiday parties to attend, and service vendors like court reporters and copying services typically gave bottles of wine, tins of holiday sweets and snacks, and holiday-themed presents to their valued customers.  This year, no one seems to be doing so.  That suggests to me that businesses are still being careful with their spending because of concerns about where the economy is heading.

From all of this, I suspect that the results of the Christmas shopping season will be decent, but no record — and perhaps not the consumer-driven boost to the economy that some observers are hoping for.

Cash For Christmas?

A relatively new book, entitled Scroogenomics:Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, argues that holiday shopping is wealth destroying because we end up buying presents people don’t want.  The author, Joel Waldfogel, is an economist who makes a classic economics argument — that resources are most wisely allocated by people who make decisions for themselves, in view of their specific needs.  He argues that the farther you get from people you really know — spouses and immediate family — and into the realm of nieces, nephews, co-workers, and the like, the more likely you are to buy something ill-considered that is left unused.  Gift cards aren’t the most efficient response to this problem, either, because about 10 percent of gift cards never get redeemed.  An interview with the author is here.

Let’s face it, though — the Seinfeld episode hit the nail on the head.  Giving cash for Christmas, or for a birthday, is widely viewed as a cold, thoughtless, last-minute gift.  This perception seems a bit unfair to me.  I can honestly say that every time I’ve received a check for a birthday or a holiday I have used the money with grateful appreciation.  I can’t say the same for the tangible gifts I’ve received — and I know that, over the years, I’ve picked out many real clunkers for friends and loved ones, too.

The only drawback to giving cash, in my view, is a non-economic one.  I feel good when I think about what Kish and the boys might want for Christmas and then actually buy presents for them.  I don’t get that feeling by writing a check.  But maybe I can get that feeling by limiting my feel-good, but otherwise wealth-destroying, purchases to a few carefully considered stocking stuffers.

Black Friday

I’m not quite sure when the day after Thanksgiving started to be called Black Friday — apparently because, for many stores, their sales on that day are what first pushes their year into the black — but I know that the day after Thanksgiving has been the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season for decades.  It has now become institutionalized — there is even a website the features only Black Friday ads.

I imagine that this year Black Friday is getting even more attention than usual.  Economists, analysts, and forecasters will want to find out whether people are shopping at all, and if so where and for what.  In our consumer-driving economy, if Americans aren’t diving into the Christmas shopping season with gusto the talking heads will say it shows a “lack of consumer confidence” and signals a longer and perhaps deeper recession.  There is something to this line of reasoning.  You can do all the surveys you want about consumer confidence, but whether people actually spend money during the season of spending is the best, most tangible evidence of what they actually believe about their own circumstances.

It is 8 a.m. as I post this, and many stores have been open for hours already, hoping to lure shoppers with special deals.  For all I know analysts already are crunching numbers on the crowds that have shown up at stores.  They shouldn’t draw any conclusions from my behavior, however.  I don’t like shopping, and I think going to shop in crowded malls the day after Thanksgiving would be a very unpleasant experience, whether the economy is weak or going great guns.