Every year, it happens. An inevitability like the sun rising, taxes being paid, and Rudy Giuliani being a public embarrassment. Besides Patrick Mahomes, the McRib, and horrible country music, it could be what America has come to be known for over the past few decades. It shows up in your email. It shows up in your mailbox. It shows up in targeted marketing ads while you are trying to watch tables get made on Facebook.
I’m of course referring to Black Friday. Every year, the spectre of saving a few dollars on a big screen tv and a chainsaw you don’t need (but what if you might, someday???) leads friends and family members to throw ‘bows with strangers in a Target parking lot, because their beloved CBS sitcoms are just so much more enjoyable on a 58 inch television screen that a 51 inch (oh that Sheldon Cooper, amiright?). It is what causes us to shred any sense of decency with the ferocity of Hulk Hogan tearing off his shirt in the eighties, just for the sake of getting 15 dollars extra off some Rachel Ray cookware that is inevitably going to bow and warp the moment you boil water in it. THOSE PANS ARE JUST FOR LOOKS, KAREN! YOU WEREN’T MEANT TO COOK IN THEM!
It’s the thing that causes normally mild mannered people to pick up the elderly in a rage, and throw them at other people in the hopes they can get their hands on the last X-Box. Imagine the scene every year. Septuagenarians and Octogenarians being hurled through Best Buy like wrinkly javelins, all in a quest to get a pair of Beats headphones because your dog ate yours, and damnit, you aren’t paying full price for another one.
And then 2020 happened. This horrible, awful, no good year. With a month to go, there is every chance in the world that as the clock strikes midnight on New Years, the only ones alive to enjoy it will be the cockroaches and Betty White (Golden Girls Highlander). It has put an emotional toll on us. It gave us Tiger King. It made us care about chess. It made us sick. It made us distant, both socially and mentally. It hurt us physically. It hurt us emotionally. It hurt us financially. It also did something else.
It might have killed Black Friday.
Black Friday is, and always has been, an opportunity for big box stores to perform in a ritualistic dick waving contest to see who can draw in more of the huddled masses to get their hands on the bargains….oh, the glorious bargains! Every year, the ads would show up in your mailbox. If you were the type to avoid crowds, their appearance was met with an eye roll and dispensing of them into the only place they belong: a garbage can. But if you were the type to enjoy the masochistic ritual of leaving your family at the dinner table to layer up and stand in the cold and snow and rain (this is a midwest blog. Enjoy your cold weather and never having to suffer in life, people on the west coast) so these goliath store versions of Bob Cratchit can milk you for every dime., then this meets you as a joyous (?) occasion. It’s a chance to fulfill your deepest, darkest desires to get a Pizzaz for 40% off.
But 2020 happened, and priorities changed. At least in most places they did. There was a sense of reckoning. A feeling that maybe doing all of this wasn’t necessary. Maybe we didn’t need to perform ritualistic savings murder just so CEO’s could have solid gold rocket cars. I mean, they could have those, anyway, but at least people weren’t losing damn sleep over it.
These big box stores are smart. We can hate them and claim we will only shop at locally owned businesses and whatever else whimsy we tell ourselves at night, right before we order our toilet paper from Amazon. But they didn’t get where they got by being dumb. You can only become President of the United States that way. By mid summer, when their factories building their electronics, toys et all, were up and functioning again, companies like Wal Mart were already pivoting. Of course, they can claim that they did this to protect people all they want. The truth is more pragmatic.
1: These companies were following all real medical advice that Covid was going to come back in a big way in the fall. They knew that for many, common sense would simply win out and people would prefer to stay home. So they spread out their deals and focused many of the deals online. They did this because…
2: It mitigated risk of them getting product into stores in time for Black Friday. I work in logistics, and have worked in warehouses for nearly 15 years. For those blissfully unaware, this is the process to get televisions to store shelves. By July, most countries that produce electronics that we purchase were back up and running. They worked non stop for two months to make and fill back orders. This would include Black Friday items going to, oh let’s say Target. That means that the televisions were probably put into shipping containers in late August. If they were coming from Asia, they would have spent around 25 days on the ocean coming over before ingating into a pier on the West Coast, most likely California. Once the container is offloaded, it sits at a rail yard for an ungodly amount of time. Because literally every company that you do business with goes through this practice, and every company that you do business with was trying to get their back orders into the country as quickly as possible, it created an insane backlog at the piers and rail yards. Once the container is finally put on a train to go to it’s next location, it takes 2-3 days depending on it’s rail end point. From that point, the train needs to be unloaded. Then the container sits at ANOTHER rail yard for days until they can get to a point where they can get it on a semi truck to take it to it’s next point. That next point will be a distribution center, most likely owned by the company.
Am I boring you to death? Good. This is actually stuff you should know because it’s how business works now. Companies like Target, Wal Mart, pretty much any store you see more than one of, have Distribution Centers that dot the country. This is for practical reasons. The distribution centers have the product that goes on store shelves. If there are more DC’s across the country, that means you can get the product to the stores more quickly. Do you ever drive around and see buildings with little or no markings that just appear to have semi trailers there but literally no other defining factors? That’s a distribution center. Distribution centers are filled with all sorts of things. Medical Supplies. Tequila. Couches. Gummy Bears. That’s all just within a three mile radius or where I work. The product sits at a distribution center until it is ready to ship to store. Then it’s picked, packed, and shipped out. Sometimes it goes to a 3rd party logistics center, but i’m not even getting into that, today.
I said all of that to say this: normally, it takes around 5 weeks from the time when the products starts being made until the product gets to the distribution center to be stores. 2020 has changed everything. I am still receiving product that I expected in the first week of October. That means that, even now, these factories are as far as five weeks behind. By moving their sales online, this safeguarded the stores and took the step of getting the product to the stores out of the entire process. They were already behind, but now they were in a position where they could speed up everything. If it works this year, I can assure you it will keep happening this year.
Ok, that was an incredibly boring dissertation that, frankly, none of you probably needed to hear, nor cared to hear. But now that i’ve explained it, let’s get back to Black Friday being an evil phallic swinging competition by billionaires. Every year, those sale ads exist to catch your eye. They are like analog click bait. People hellbent on finding the best deal pore over them and cross reference to find the best bargain. For all the of the false bluster PR flacks from these companies say every year about how they are preaching safety over everything else, you know nothing gets the nipples collectively harder of these CEO’s than seeing the mayhem. If somoene in Bumblefuck, Mississippi drives their pickup truck through the front door of a Kohls, every person on the company’s board of directors has an aggressive three day orgasm. No such thing as bad press, remember? Especially when the news mentions that the driver of the truck just wanted your spectacularly marked down cutlery set.
I do believe that many people will look back fondly on Black Friday and miss it. Kind of in the same way someone misses having Shingles. And there is every chance in the world that next year, Target will run THE BIGGEST BLACK FRIDAY SPECTACULAR SALE EVER THAT WILL BE SO BIG, IT WILL OPEN AT 3PM ON THANKSGIVING DAY WITH TARGET BUCKS BEING SHOT OUT OF T SHIRT CANNONS AND TELEVISIONS SO LARGE AND CHEAP THAT YOUR BOWELS WILL LITERALLY TRY TO ESCAPE YOU FROM SHOCK!
For the moment, though, let’s bask in the fact that for what feels like the first time in eight months, people showed some level of common sense. News reports across the country were reporting stores opened up for their sales without lines to speak of. No biting. No gouging. No elderly tossing. Stores weren’t crazy. There were news stories already today about stores preparing for the rush, only to find they had more employees working than people shopping. People stayed at home more than they have in decades. All it took was a virus killing over a quarter million people to get them to stay on their couches.
Maybe corporations will see that and come to the realization that they don’t need the Black Friday sales to make themselves richer. They can take their dick waving contest back where it’s accepted and belongs: The Internet.