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Are Black Friday Bargains Best for Your Health?

There aren’t many events that cater to the frugal holiday shopper quite like Black Friday. Long gone are the days of purchasing everything on your list at full price. In fact, Since 1932, Black Friday has been a term used for post-Thanksgiving day sales that jump start holiday shopping, and it has since evolved into other events, the most well-known being Cyber Monday.

As I prepare for my first time working a Black Friday in retail--stacking and sorting boxes upon boxes of freight to put out the day of, prepackaging expected orders for Cyber Monday, and racking up points on my Starbucks card so I can get a free Eggnog Latte the day of--I have to wonder a few things: how did we get here, and how does this day really affect us?

According to History.com, police in the city of Philadelphia in the 50s used the term “Black Friday” to describe the absolute chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving. Hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city before the much-anticipated Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only was every cop on duty, but most would have to work overtime shifts to deal with the additional crowds and traffic. This was also an opportune time for shoplifters to take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the headache of law enforcement.

To meet the demands of excited shoppers, stores opened at 6 am with tantalizing doorbuster sales, but beginning in the early 2000s, they began opening earlier and earlier. In 2011, stores such as Best Buy, Kohl's, Macy's, and Target opened at midnight for the first time. The following year, Walmart, along with several others, announced they would open at 8:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day. In 2013, Walmart, among other leading retailers, announced it would open even earlier, at 6:00 pm. Kmart took it one step further, announcing that it would open at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving Day and would remain open for 41 straight hours. However, after some backlash on social media from employees and consumers, many stores this year have transitioned back to opening on Friday.

While sales may be enticing for consumers, the true benefits of this day are being called into question.

First is the safety aspect. People have reported raised blood pressure--which can lead to heart attacks and strokes--, loss of critical sleep time, and frostbite due to exposure to the elements. Each year, there have also been reports of shoppers getting trampled on while attempting to get an item before supplies run out, as well as reports of shootings and assaults. In 2014 alone, a man stabbed his co-worker in a Costco, there was a brawl at Kohl's in Tustin ends with three arrests, a shopper was hit by car at Walmart, a woman suffers a broken wrist and head injury during a 'scuffle'. There are also reports dating back to 2006 of people being trampled and crushed.

While the violence on Friday is a concern, the effects on the mental health of shoppers calls the whole event into question. According to Elements of Behavior Health, a site focused on mental health and rehabilitation, “The chaos of major sales events may cause anxiety, loss of reality and other mental health issues among shoppers. Retailers bank on these heightened emotions to make the sale. Unsurprisingly, many shoppers feel “spending guilt” after loading up on holiday gifts they can’t afford, which in turn can lead to financial and relationship problems.”

Everyone wants to provide their family and friends with the best holiday possible without sending themselves into crippling debt. This can especially hurt single, unemployed, or underemployed parents, grasping at straws for ways to make the holidays cheerful for them and their children. So what can we as consumers do?

If you can, shop Cyber Monday, as many stores will have sales on online merchandise, and you can avoid the crowds and chaos. If you are going to shop on Friday, make a plan beforehand and stick to the sales you really want, and remember to dress in layers. Go to stores that open on Friday instead of Thursday, as they are less likely to have incidences of violence. From someone who has worked in retail for over a year, remember that employees are obligated to be nice to customers, so try to return the favor. It makes our day when customers do something as simple as offer a smile or say thank you. 

If buying something for everyone on your list just isn’t possible this year, don’t fret! DIY gift exchanges are a great alternative to expensive gifts. Above all else, remember that this is the time for family and friends to come together and celebrate. Gifts are nice, but your presence and time are much more valuable. Enjoy the holidays.

 

Lauren Gennerman

November, 2016