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Black Friday and the power of consumers

  Courtesy Powhusku, via Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Powhusku, via Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that we all have power? As consumers, we do; and we are accountable to use that power wisely.

For some it’s intuition, but most big brands spend millions on research to figure out how you and I shop, what we like and don’t like, and the types of products and experiences we’ll buy. This research guides them in improving what they offer, how they offer it, and helps them to innovate new products that sell.

To break it down from a designer's perspective:

Who hasn’t felt the gut-wrenching comedown of sitting and watching a focus group tear apart your design? It is in that moment when you realize you’re not entirely in control. We aim to guide the public with design, and in turn the public guides us in making sure that what we’re creating is worthwhile for them—because if they don’t like it, they won’t buy it. And if the product our design enhances or advertises doesn’t sell, we won’t be able to continue doing our jobs working for the company who wanted to sell it.

We aim to guide the public with design, and in turn the public guides us in making sure that what we’re creating is worthwhile for them—because if they don’t like it, they won’t buy it.

So what does this have to do with Black Friday and personal accountability?

Last night I was on a train heading back to New York from Philly, and I read an op-ed in The Washington Post that shed light on how rich people shame those less fortunate with Black Friday brawl videos. There is, of course, much truth to this. Showing the footage and ogling only makes you look like a privileged jerk and grabs ratings while perpetuating stereotypes. But still, there’s something missing here. Where is the progressive approach to solving this problem? The author spends the whole article basically shaming anyone who has ever laughed at a Black Friday brawl video, while linking to these videos so those who haven't yet seen them can have a gawk, too. And I’ll stop there before go too far because I actually agree with the article and that’s not where I’m trying to go with this.

The “brawlers” aren’t necessarily victims of total poverty—for that matter we don't even know their financial status. The real problem is that they’ve been duped by an increasingly ethically-questionable marketing and retail system. An article from last year’s Wall Street Journal illustrates the illusion that is a Black Friday deal. And the brawl behavior is par for the course when you market to people in a way that creates a feeling of urgency. Personal responsibility for our actions goes out the window when we’re overwhelmed with this feeling of extreme urgency and need. We become monster consumers, and no one is immune.

The problem lies with and can be solved with the good old 1%. In my state you're making roughly $511,000 annually if you're in the 1%, while I know college-educated people in the publishing and creative industries with the title Art Director who were hired at $40,000 and haven't seen a salary increase much beyond $42,000 in nearly a decade. Art Director sounds pretty middle class to me—you would probably assume that person was making much more and judge them accordingly, but you shouldn't. We focus on the near-poverty of big box store employees (who are actually the ones unfairly forced to work that day, not the ones shopping and brawling) and somehow tend to forget that everyone else is also struggling. While the 1% sees growth, the incomes of average Americans have not increased much or at all, and this is a general across-the-board middle class phenomenon (here is some data to back that up, and some more data about CEO salaries). Irresponsible consumption compounds this and pushes us over the brink.

If every one of us made the conscious effort to stop falling for them, retailers would learn that pushing Black Friday sale schemes that creep into Thanksgiving Day aren’t profitable, and they would stop.

Now, one could say that if your salary is not increasing, you're free to—and probably should—get a different job. Gone are the days of comfortable jobs where we are able to get ahead by serving as cogs in the machine. Now it's all about working smarter and being a linchpin. The fact is, no matter how unfair or warped the system has become, if we take personal responsibility for our own career growth, chances are we will grow. Then again, there is also the chance that we will not, which is why I won't ever deny that the system is in need of serious reform.

Beyond that, the truth is no one really needs that huge, flat-panel TV or the latest gadget. Let's admit that we all just want it...to compete with a friend who has it, or because a celebrity endorses it, and because we think we'd be happier if we had it. But if we didn't get it, or if we saved for a while before we were able to afford it, the world wouldn't stop—we could still be happy.

If every one of us made the conscious effort to stop falling for it, if we stayed home with friends and family on Thanksgiving and the following Friday instead of heading to the stores to shop ‘till we drop, things would change. Retailers would learn that Black Friday sale schemes that creep into Thanksgiving Day aren’t profitable, and they would stop.

This is just one small example of the power we have as consumers. And it’s why I still believe in voting with your money. Vote, too. Always vote. But remember to also vote with your money.

It takes a big ego to assume that you're more privileged than a Black Friday shopper, just like it takes a big ego to pity anyone--I know I wouldn't want anyone pitying me. Instead, let's all shut off our egos, stop pointing fingers at each other, start recognizing our collective power and focus on really helping each other out.

Never allow anyone to lead you to believe that you're powerless.

Alyssa YeagerComment