Political Animal


November 23, 2012 10:11 AM Advice For the Ad-Battered

By Ed Kilgore

This isn’t directly related to politics, but since some of you may still be trembling on the threshold of a decision to go out into the commercial wilds of Black Friday, here’s a snippet from Derek Thompson’s cautionary advice at The Atlantic going into the Holiday:

The biggest mistake that people make on Black Friday is that they assume that the most popular day of the year to shop is the best day of the year to buy anything. If you’re walking into a store at 5 AM Thursday morning, you’re probably expecting floor-kissing prices in every corner. But store-wide discounts aren’t in the best interest of the store. It’s more common that a few tantalizing items will be sold at a loss to lure shoppers through the door while smart floor design guides them toward more profitable (even full-priced) items. “Black Friday is about cheap stuff at cheap prices, and I mean cheap in every connotation of the word,” Dan de Grandpre, a veteran deal expert, told the New York Times.
Stores know you’re making this mistake, and they know how to manipulate floor traffic to their higher-margin stuff. As experts in “retail ergonomics” (it’s a thing) have shown, counterclockwise traffic flows result in more spending; putting high-margin items at eye-level to the customers’ right is most likely to motivate a purchase; and forcing you to walk around a display is an easy way to draw our attention to items the store wants us to throw in the cart.

But Thompson’s final tip is the most important, and is relevant to the desire for more More Stuff every day of the year:

Black Friday is exhausting. And when you feel exhausted, your brain gets drunk with stupid. It’s decision fatigue, it’s leg fatigue, it’s everything fatigue. Retail stores know this. So they put cheap stuff tantalizingly close to our arms in the checkout aisle. It’s so cheap, and small, and cute, I have to have it, your decision-fatigued brain will plead. Don’t listen.

Hard to do. Here’s the classic George Carlin routine (with mild profanity) about our insatiable desire for “stuff.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • mmm on November 23, 2012 10:33 AM:

    I love that George Carlin routine. We have reason to complain about the MSM when every station had the same lead story about shopping! Ugh! This is the time to become a member of the Church of Stop Shopping, a movement several years ago.

  • c u n d gulag on November 23, 2012 10:33 AM:

    I give thanks for the late, GREAT, George Carlin!
    And thanks, Ed, for sharing.

    I worked in Customer Service at Sears while I went to college.
    I HATE stores, and I HATE shopping.

    You can rest assured, you will never find me shopping on Black Friday.

    If I were an Evil Genius, I'd quintuple the amount of Tryptophan in turkey, and ruin the US economy by having shoppers sleep through Black Friday!
    All the stores would be open, with sleepy employees nodding off at their workstations, waiting for shoppers, who are at home, hibernating, and ZZzzzzz-ing the day away.

  • kabiddle on November 23, 2012 10:48 AM:

    Thanks for the George Carlin.

  • ComradeAnon on November 23, 2012 11:47 AM:

    I read that Carlin punched a time clock every day he worked. Can't see him hitting a Black Friday sale or even a Wal-Mart.

  • bdop4 on November 23, 2012 11:55 AM:

    I have a visceral hatred of malls and large crowds, so I've never ventured out on Black Friday. But what is said about retail ergonomics is true. If you don't know exactly what you want, they will get you by the time you walk out the door.

    Thank god for online shopping, although I'm sure retail websites have an "ergonomics" all their own.