Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year (Repost)

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 27, 2015

Filed under: Random 98 comments

Let’s all do our part this season and recycle as much as we can. I’ll start with this post from last year, because today is Black Friday in the USA and this seems particularly relevant.

Like all old codger stories, this one begins with the phrase, “When I was young.” I realize this is cliche, but it’s probably less annoying than using, “Before you were born” as an opening.

In any case, when I was young the Christmas shopping season began much more gradually. There was no “Black Friday” shopping blitzkrieg the day after Thanksgiving. The process took time and not everyone did it at once.

But today, as soon as Halloween is over the Christmas decorations come out and the Christmas sales begin. We roll our eyes. We joke. We grit our teeth. But it still happens this way every year. People write op-eds about how ugly and consumerist America has become, because it wasn’t like this in the “Good old days.” Unfortunately our current grotesque, soul-crushing orgy of prolonged and rapacious spending was unavoidable. We all hate it, even as we participate in it. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s just the unintended consequence of a couple of perfectly understandable forces.

Get the Sims 2: Creepy Christmas Cult DLC now!

Let’s set aside the whole Birth-of-Jesus / religious holiday thing and agree that lots of people like to celebrate Christmas. Maybe they like the lights, or the food, or the family, or the notions of peace and harmony, but just about everyone enjoys the exchanging of presents on some level. Even if you don’t like shopping for racist Uncle Walt – who you only see every other year when he shows up to the Christmas party to complain about politics with his mouth full and drink more than his share of the booze – there’s an undeniable charm to seeing a kid’s face light up when they find a box with their dreams in it. Keeping the gift-giving to once a year ensures the proper level of delight and appreciation from the little ones. And it always feels good to get that one present for your friend that you knew they would love but would never think to buy for themselves.

Depending on what goods they sell and what statistics you believe, retailers move something like one-third to three-quarters of their yearly goods during the “Christmas shopping season”. If we split the difference and say halfYes I realize that’s not splitting the difference. But look, the numbers are all over the place. You can justify any figure you like, provided that figure is really large., then that means that half of everything you sell will be sold in the last month of the year. This creates some really annoying throughput problems. Assuming that business is evenly distributed throughout the rest of the year, it means you suddenly need your store to handle over ten times the normal monthly volume.

Stores have finite storage space. There’s only so much crap you can ram into the back area. And there’s an upper limit on how fast you can have more goods delivered, particularly if the weather is bad and everyone else is also trying to get huge volumes of stuff delivered. If you run out of goods – or if you just run low enough that it becomes inconvenient for people to shop at your store because they have a long list of stuff they want to buy and they want to make the smallest number of stops possible – then shoppers won’t want to come to your store. Losing out on a week of sales in August is worrisome. But losing out on a week of sales during the Christmas season is brutal. If Christmas accounts for half your sales, then missing a single week of Christmas sales will cost you a heart-stopping 12% of your annual income. To be clear, that’s more than the profit margins of some retail chains. Like, a 12% dip in income means you have to fire a few thousand people and maybe close some stores. And nobody wants to do that kind of stuff right after Christmas.

Ho ho ho! You see Jenny, the TRUE meaning of Christmas is that you are an avatar of rapacious consumerism!

(This is usually where people start complaining about executive salaries. Look, I understand that it’s really upsetting to some, and I can understand if you oppose huge salaries on some sort of moral grounds, but executive salaries aren’t even worth discussing here. Wal-Mart made almost half a trillion bucks last year and the CEO got 25 million. If you took all his pay away and gave it to the employees, it would add up to just $10 per person, per year. The CEO salary accounts for less than 0.0052% of the company profits. If you made every single executive put double their salary back into the company coffers, it wouldn’t increase revenue by a tenth of a percentage point. Maybe you don’t like the idea of people making twenty five million bucks for a cushy desk job, but the truth is that on the scale of global mega corporations their incomes just do not matter. So please don’t sidetrack this with stuff about salaries. Let’s just forget that for now and focus on retail throughput, which is a much more interesting problem. In fact, I INSIST. Last time I posted this, some people decided to argue about this anyway and it started a flamewar so bad I had to close the comments. I was nice about it in 2014, but this time I’m just going to unceremoniously delete any such comments. Merry Christmas!)

The point is: Retailers hate this as much as we do. The Christmas shopping season is rife with risk and unwanted expense. They have to hire a bunch of temp workers and pay to train them. So they’re paying more and getting lower quality work. They have to pay a premium to have huge volumes of goods delivered at a time where everyone else is also having massive goods delivered. The influx of stuff means everything is packed tighter. Goods get crushed, broken, stolen, and lost, on both a macro and micro scale. From the shipment that got left in the warehouse an extra week to the USB speakers that fell off the pallet and got crushed under the boxes of plastic Christmas lights, the uptick in volume results in a broad range of financial losses.

Retailers would love it if our business was spread evenly over the entire year. But the mess we’re in now was as inevitable as the seasons. It began innocently enough…

Early 80’s

I’m running Stuff-Mart. On the other side of the shopping plaza is my hated rival, AmeriGoods. I know that Shoppers are going to show up in December and buy tons (literally!) of goods. Now, I can order those goods in November like I normally would. However, those assholes over at AmeriGoods are going to do the same thing. Since we carry a lot of the same stuff, we’re both talking to the same wholesalers. Those wholesalers are going to crank up their prices when the demand spikes. Worse, the cost of shipping is going to also spike in November, because:

1) Gas prices always go up because consumers and trucking companies are all burning extra gas.
2) Truckers want to spend the holidays with their families.
3) AmeriGoods is shipping stuff too, making the previous two problems worse. Jerks.

But! I can get those same goods way, WAY cheaper if I’m willing to order them just a couple of weeks sooner. Maybe have the stuff arrive in mid November instead of early December.

It works out, and my profits go up. I pay less for the goods and I sell them for the same price. The only cost is that the back storage room of my store is kind of overstuffed for a couple of weeks.

Late 80’s

AmeriGoods has caught on to my plan and they’re ordering their stuff a couple of weeks earlier. So I have to order my stuff even sooner to stay ahead of them. After a couple of years of this we’ve got Christmas goods coming in at the tail end of Halloween. We literally don’t have room for it in storage. The best we can do is shove it out on the sales floor and maybe catch some early sales.

Early 90’s

Both my store and the filthy shysters over at AmeriGoods are both starting our big Christmas sales right after Thanksgiving. We tried moving it sooner than that, but consumers hated that. Heck, they hate seeing the stuff on the sales floor that early, so putting it on sale and advertising it just pisses them off even more.

But still. The back room is so stuffed we can barely function. I need to front-load as much shopping as possible to get us some breathing room. My plan this year is to have a huge sale right after Thanksgiving. I’ll put a couple of limited quantity loss leaders in the paper. I’m hoping two hundred people will show up looking to buy one of the VCR / television hybrids that I’m selling at a loss. I’ve only got 50 of those, but the other 150 people will probably stick around the store and do the rest of their Christmas shopping here. That should free up some space for the customers in December.

It turns out my idea worked better than I could have dreamed. I didn’t get 200 shoppers, I got a thousand. I think I’m onto something here.

Late 90’s

This whole “Day after Thanksgiving” thing has caught on. They’re calling it Black Friday now. People are expecting huge deals. If I don’t have some insane sale to draw them in, then they’ll all go to AmeriGoods and I’ll end up drowning in all this stock. I’ve already lined up my December shipments. (Just like shoppers are starting earlier every year, so am I. I have to line up deliveries way in advance, before the prices spike.) If I don’t move literal tons of goods on Black Friday, then when the December stuff arrives I won’t have room for it in the building. Then it will sit in the loading bay until it’s stolen or ruined by weather. So I have to move these goods.

Hm. You know, consumers won’t stand for the big sale before Thanksgiving, but what if I just opened early on Black Friday? It wouldn’t have to be super-early or anything. I just need to be open an hour before AmeriGoods.

Early 2000’s

I guess I should have seen this coming. We now open at 5am on Black Friday. The crowd of early shoppers is large enough to be a physical danger. The employees don’t want to be here, the shoppers say they hate it but show up anyway. The news is always parked outside getting footage of people standing in line and blaming S-Mart for this mess.

This is the same throughput problem I had in the 80’s, except now more concentrated.


♪ ♫ ♬’tis the season to be jolly!♪ ♫ ♬
♪ ♫ ♬’tis the season to be jolly!♪ ♫ ♬

Before we heap blame on “evil corporations” or “dumb consumers”, we ought to note that this is actually a pretty natural result of consumer demand: People want to buy HUGE quantities of goods at the end of the year, but they don’t like doing it before Thanksgiving. This wave of shopping is so huge that a company can thrive or perish based on how well they perform. This entire mess is the result of retailers trying as hard as they can to distribute those sales as much as possible without having their competition ninja the first sales (the best ones) away right at the start.

My hope for the future is that the wave of online shopping might save us. I’m willing to bet it’s more efficient in terms of time, cost, and fuel burned to have dedicated delivery vehicles bringing stuff to our door as opposed to everyone driving to the mall, fighting over parking, and standing in line for hours to get the same stuff. (Yes, those UPS delivery trucks are fuel hogs, but if you distributed its payload among fifty cars and had them all compete for driving and parking space, my guess is that you’d end up burning a lot more fuel and a lot more hours of human time.)

Just like the rise of Black Friday didn’t happen overnight, I think the rise of online shopping will take a few years. (For the record: We did all of our shopping already, and we did 80% of it online.) I wonder what will happen to retailers. They’re already struggling, and even having a third of their Christmas business vanish is enough to kill some of the smaller chains. Plus there will be residual damage to secondary markets: Fast food places will make less money if there are less hungry shoppers.

Anyway. Happy Thanksgiving. Remember: Nobody in this mess is really evil. There are no bad guysExcept for me, because if I smell even a whiff of politics I’ll put you right on Santa’s naughty list.. This is not a conspiracy. We’re all victims of culture, throughput, and infrastructure. Be good to those clerks, be patient with the other shoppers, and remember that the executives don’t know how to fix this either.



[1] Yes I realize that’s not splitting the difference. But look, the numbers are all over the place. You can justify any figure you like, provided that figure is really large.

[2] Except for me, because if I smell even a whiff of politics I’ll put you right on Santa’s naughty list.

From The Archives:

98 thoughts on “Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year (Repost)

  1. Da Mage says:

    In countries where we don’t have a Thankgiving or Halloween style holiday (Australia in my example), the shift is much more gradual. Through October some very brave stores will start having ‘christmissy’ things appear in them, then by mid November, everyone has all the holiday stuff out. There isn’t a ‘Black Friday’ rush at any point as there is no logical ‘starting point’ for the holiday season.

    Here the big sales day is Boxing day (the day after Christmas) when stores start even bigger sales to move all the stock they didn’t sell.

    I’ll tell you, it is bizarre having all that snow and pine tress decorations that is traditional to a northern christmas, in stores when the temperature outside is often 38C/100F or more.

    1. On the other hand, a holiday that involves gift-giving coinciding with one of the hottest parts of the year leads to the perennially entertaining side-effect of water pistols being a must-have Christmas item.
      I imagine it’s not the same in countries where temperatures drop below freezing in December?

      1. guy says:

        It is not. Sweaters are a traditional lazy gift, though.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          We really ought to switch it up alternating years so sometimes you get cold weather stuff and sometimes hot weather stuff. I hope its not controversial to point out that Christmas isn’t set on Jesus’s actual purported birthday anyway. So we could have it on the actual day one year (whenever that is) and on our “traditional” celebration day the other year.

          1. Soylent Dave says:

            The fact that there were Shepherds grazing their flocks means that it was probably (local) spring or early summer, and – annoyingly – some time before 4 BC, because that’s when Herod died.

            (I think that’s about as close as we can get to a real birth date)

            Jesus’ death is easier because there was an eclipse (3rd April AD 33 is the current consensus for that, I think)

            1. Droid says:

              Israel is directly at the Mediterranean shore. I doubt there is any kind of snowy or non-grazing season there anyway.

              1. C baker says:

                Yes, but there is a lambing season. That’s why you’d be out watching your flocks at night.

      2. Benjamin Hilton says:

        Oh man. I wish Water guns were a traditional gift in the U.S. As it is they seem to be less popular in general than they used to be here.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Lucky.The idiots in my country decided to adopt the black friday this year(despite having no thanksgiving),and Ive heard a bunch of commercials for it.I hope it fails,but I fear it will be a huge success.I will find out tomorrow I guess.

      1. Kylroy says:

        What country? Seems bizarre to try and make Black Friday happen with no lead-in.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          All over. Go look at amazon.co.uk, amazon.es, amazon.de, amazon.fr, amazon.whatevercountryyouwant – thyey *all* have Black Friday sales or Black Friday Week Sales. Which is pretty nonsensical, given Spain, France, Germany,…. don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all.

          1. Alexander The 1st says:

            Given that I grew up being told that Black Friday refers to the Great Depression with a point where the stock market started going back into the black ink instead of red ink (Which apparently isn’t the case – it was supposed to be about traffic jams, apparently?), I wouldn’t be surprised that Black Friday has caught on – here in Canada, we certainly don’t associate it with Thanksgiving, since that happens a month earlier.

            1. Supahewok says:

              You’re thinking of Black Tuesday. Black Tuesday was the day of the crash.

              1. Decius says:

                And it has nothing to do with black/red ink. It’s “black” because of the large number of suicides.

                1. Xapi says:

                  In my country they are trying to make Black Friday catch on. It is even called “Black Friday” even though we speak spanish.

                  On the plus side: It was very rare that big stores had sales with interesting discounts, (maybe you’d have one AFTER the Holidays, to get rid of the leftovers) and now there’s more.

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Sorry. I guess the online shopping effect is causing it to bleed over.

        Still, it makes sense for any country that celebrates Christmas with gift giving to have a “Christmas preparation” sale, so might as well. It just doesn’t make sense to have that sale at the same time as everyone else if you don’t have to.

    3. James says:

      The UK has started to adopt Black Friday as of at least last year, i was told last year by some people i know at my local Currys/PC World (its a consumer electronics and white goods store) that that store alone made over £1 Million, now i dont live in anywhere near a large location, its a fairly moderately sized town. not even a small city.

      That is insane, and i only expect it to get worse.

      1. Richard says:

        Actually, there’s been a pretty emphatic backlash against Black Friday in the UK, with several large chains (eg Asda) declaring that they absolutely Will Not have a Black Friday event this year or next.

        So I suspect it’ll be dead next year.

        As Shamus mentions – nobody likes it anyway, and so it only takes one or two to cease for the rest to drop it like a hot coal.

        Not that it’ll make any difference in the USA.

        1. James says:

          yea i went around the shops this weekend, while it was busy, no more then normal weekend Christmas time busy, i just think the British dont want to fight over tat and would prefer a cup of tea and some hobnobs by the fire.

        2. I’ve been rolling my eyes at companies trying to make Black Friday a Thing here, hoping it wouldn’t take off, so I had a private cheer at Asda refusing to bother this year. In any case, last Friday I was arse-deep in trying to move house so I couldn’t really take advantage of any sales even if I felt so inclined. :p (I did very briefly sneak onto my sister’s internet connection to see if I could find a decent laptop bargain ‘cos I urgently need a new lappie, but the one I liked wasn’t on sale so… *shrug*)

          Increasingly, I try and do hand-made Christmas gifts if I can (I’m fairly good with a sewing machine), but ironically this means I need to start thinking about Christmas some time in August or stuff just doesn’t get finished. It’s no good deciding to start making things in the middle of November, believe me! I don’t feel the need to go around giving people Season’s Greetings in summer as a result, though. ;)

    4. Wilcroft says:

      Canada was largely the same (our thanksgiving is mid-October, so too early for Christmas stuff), so Boxing Day used to be the big sales day (and still is, to some extent). However, to combat all the Canadians crossing the border for Black Friday sales, we’re starting to get them here too.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        They used to when the cdn dollar was closer to parity with USD, but now cross-border shopping isn’t worth it. So the stores up here have less pressure, and so can go for a “Black Friday Week” style thing where the sale is more spread out.

        1. Hermocrates says:

          I think “Black Friweek” is the most ridiculous advertisement term I’ve heard this season.

      2. Peter H. Coffin says:

        (our thanksgiving is mid-October, so too early for Christmas stuff)

        Give it time. Christmas stuff is already pushing Halloween goods out of the way early. I can see it making a two week jump.

      3. Canucklechuckle says:

        (our thanksgiving is mid-October, so too early for Christmas stuff)

        I wish. Local retailers actually started putting up those annoying singing Santa things before Thanksgiving.

    5. Andy_Panthro says:

      In the UK we obviously don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but for some reason (no doubt the same principle Shamus writes about above) we now have black friday sales. Of course it seems many places here are calling it “Black Friday Weekend” or similar, with some extending it into next week. Any excuse to try and get people shopping I guess?

      1. Entropy says:

        It doesn’t seem to have really caught on. The big story I got from the BBC yesterday was “packs of journalists looking desperately for packs of shoppers”, with the increasing spend mostly moving online, where one is less likely to get trampled by anyone.

    6. James Pope says:

      Yeah, some of my favorite Xmases in the past were when I lived in Hawaii and the holidays signaled everyone getting time off to go on hikes, eat snow cones, and watch people surf. Even when I was working service and there was inexplicable decorative notions being tossed around, Hawaii’s just different-thinking enough that we had dinosaurs in the mall to go with the Santa and who cared about the gift-misery because HEY! GIRLS IN BIKINIS! YAY!

  2. Awetugiw says:

    One of the frustrating things about knowing a bit of game theory is that you start to recognize a lot of situations like these, where the Nash equilibrium is not Pareto optimal. It’s so inefficient, yet there is nothing* we can do about it.

    *Okay, installing a communist dictatorship would solve this problem. But it would create several other problems.

    1. Decius says:

      The communist dictatorship is neither Pareto optimal nor a Nash equilibrium. 😎

      1. Awetugiw says:

        In theory it should be Pareto optimal. In practice… less so.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          *Looks up Pareto efficiency*

          Lol, yeah, I guess that’s the whole point of that system isn’t it. Thank you for giving me my search term for the way.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats the problem with any idealistic system of government:It assumes idealized versions of people.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The shortest answer:Because we let it happen.

    1. Decius says:

      Slightly longer, but much more correct: “Because we made it happen.”

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Indeed.I still maintain that its not nobodys fault,but rather everybodys fault.

  4. VaporWare says:

    I ‘solved’ (avoid) this problem for myself by building up a buffer of ‘things I need to have’ well ahead of time and hunkering down in my office until Black Friday is safely over. My fiance and I don’t really do ‘holidays’ as it is.

    As a Disabled Veteran who suffers from heaping walls of anxiety already, Black Friday and the holiday rush in general are activities I, personally, can’t afford to participate in on a level quite apart from the fiscal and logistical.

    Think it’s good to encourage people to start spreading themselves out again, and taking advantage of other means of shopping than crushing each other inside of big box stores. The vendors and the economy will adapt, one way or another.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      The way I see it, the extra money I would have saved buying things on Black Friday is a small price to pay for NOT dealing with Black Friday.

      1. SKD says:

        I very much agree with that sentiment

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      I went all online pretty much three or four years ago. Unfortunately there is still the occasional thing that you can’t get that way. Specific jewelry, shoes, clothes sometimes.

      1. Mortuorum says:

        I “Christmas shop” throughout the year, so generally don’t see the need to run out on Black Friday to participate in the madness. This year, we’re going on a Caribbean cruise in April; as a result, many family members and friends will get gifts from our ports of call. Almost everything else will come from Amazon, wrapped by them and shipped directly to home or work addresses.

        The major exceptions are my wife and daughter whose gifts get purchased and hand-wrapped by me. But even then, I often purchase them before Thanksgiving and/or online.

  5. SKD says:

    I have to agree almost entirely with your arguments and Conclusion. My exception is that there are bad guys and they are the consumers. And I will stand on that opinion until I stop hearing about people being injured and fights breaking out at stores during the holiday shopping season. I agree that online shopping and distribution will likely be the salvation from this problem but now we are also seeing the disadvantages of that method as the criminal element has learned to target the deliveries made during this season.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The fights are just the most loyal consumerist drones experiencing the emotional consequences of “failure” on this holiday to buying a lot of stuff for less than it would normally cost. People get caught up in the idea of the “Perfect Holiday Season” which seems mostly to involve purchasing the right things at the right prices, rather than doing whatever your family/friends/pets/etc enjoys the most.

    2. guy says:

      The actual fights associated with black friday are very rare and often result from stores failing to do the sort of crowd management typically associated with, say, concerts.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Makes sense. They could be very rare in frequency and still give news outlets plenty of such stories.

      2. SKD says:

        Even so, for me it would still be far too much of a pain the ### to have to deal with the crowds that are common. Even if everyone were perfectly behaved it would not be worth it for me.

  6. Mersadeon says:

    As a European, I love Thanksgiving and Black Friday! I don’t have to participate in any of it but still get all the sweet online deals. And on the family end, Christmas has more than enough family members coming together for my taste, so I’m not really losing out. Although I would love to try a traditional American Thanksgiving turkey at least once.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ok,lets talk a bit of scifi here(just a bit,because we are already a foot in it):
    Once 3d printing for stuff like toys and other junk we use for gift reaches replicator levels,will this insane trend stop?Once you are able to buy all the gifts online and just print them in your home,or have it delivered to you while its being printed on the way,therell be way less need for storage,right?Well,besides the raw plastic required for the process.So the seasonal sales will stop consuming the surrounding two months.

    Or will they remain as a bogus artifact of the past,artificially prolonged by the sheer greed of the corporations like the preorders?

    1. Mephane says:

      Once 3d printing for stuff like toys and other junk we use for gift reaches replicator levels,will this insane trend stop?

      You’ll just suffer the Great Annual Plastic Shortage instead. :)

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Toys themselves haven’t been the most popular items at these sales for years. Now it’s all about tablets, devices, and so on.

    3. Wide And Nerdy says:

      Once they reach replicator levels, things will be fundamentally different. What is the point of making gift exchange a big part of the ritual when you can have pretty much anything you want on a moments notice?

      We may get back to just making stuff for each other in that case or just enjoying a meal and some songs together. That would be nice.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well I assume mass effect system here,where you buy digital patterns that you then print out instead of the star trek system where everything is free.Materials and intellectual property will still have some value for a long long time.

        1. Shamus says:

          I’m betting this has the Lego company very worried. They sell lumps of plastic at a *gargantuan* markup, and it’s only because they don’t have any serious rivals. And I’m pretty sure that’s 90% due to patent protection.

          Funny to imagine “pirate” lego patterns being passed around, allowing people to fabricate bricks at cost.

          1. Incunabulum says:

            And countries enabling legislation to make possession or ‘control of’ ‘copyright infringing digital files’ – like NSW is doing for 3d-printed guns.

          2. Louis says:

            I bet LEGO isn’t very worried; I read a report on how they have an expensive, proprietary plastic mix that allows their bricks to remain solid and tough for decades. MEGABLOCKS and Kreo use plastic of much lower quality, and I’ve experienced the difference firsthand. I don’t know how 3D printers will handle plastics of varying quality like that, or if people will understand the need to have the better quality in stock for certain projects, but I’m betting that LEGO will find a way to keep their bricks in demand.

            1. JAB says:

              That’s kind of interesting. (1) My understanding is the LEGO sets have been priced around 10 cents a piece for at least the last 30 years. If the price of individual bricks has little to do with the price of sets, that explains things. (2) There are people now printing out [at least] accessories for LEGO figures, at least partially to make things LEGO won’t, like guns. (3) I’ve got a friend who has puttered around with a 3D printer for work. While I fully expect the technology to improve, it sounds like making a functional LEGO-like piece, quickly and cheaper than you can buy isn’t really possible now.

              1. Andrew_C says:

                Yeah, while the basic Lego 8 stud block has fallen out of copyright and they forgot to trademark it or something (don’t know exact details), none makers of generic blocks have the same quality. Megablocks and Kreo come close, but the no name Chinese ones are more about quantity than quality anyway.

                1. Shamus says:

                  These are all really good points.

                  It’s true, the quality of Lego plastic is fantastic. They hold their shape for years. (Important when just a small amount of wear can make bricks stop “holding”.) They don’t fade in color like cheap plastics. They stand up to stress.

                  Yeah. My initial assumption that home printing would threaten Lego seems unreasonable now. If knock-off brands can’t match Lego in quality, then home printing doesn’t stand a chance.

                  That doesn’t mean it will never happen, but most people would probably rather pay the Lego premium than home brew an inferior product.

                  1. guy says:

                    It’s also almost certainly going to be an extremely long time before home printing can seriously compete on cost. 3D printers cost less to operate than it costs to set up a manufacturing line but dramatically more than it takes to keep running a manufacturing line. For the foreseeable future they appear likely to mostly be for prototypes, custom work, and small (<150) production runs. They're seeing extensive use in prosthetics, though, because those need to be individually fitted.

                  2. Blackbird71 says:

                    Except that how much durability do you need when you can simply print replacements? If for example you could print four cheap blocks for the cost of buying one Lego block, it may still be a viable threat.

          3. Karl says:

            “Legos sure are expensive, for being essentially small squares of plastic.” is pretty much the same thing as saying “Ferrari 488 Spiders sure are expensive, for essentially being Ford Tauruses.”

            I’m willing to bet that most of the cost of Lego sets are from what must be a huge amount of design and engineering work that has to go into them.

        2. Wide And Nerdy says:

          While I’d like to have the market remain in play, I am hoping we’ll see a combination of open source replicator patterns and efforts to buy up essential patterns and make them public domain. I think we haven’t had the latter with other digital media because they’re not as essential but when we hit this point, we really need to make a certain base level of patterns free for everybody. So if you had one of these replicators you’d have a bank of free patterns for all of your essentials and then you can buy fancier patterns and patterns for luxury as funds become available.

          This was the case in Second Life. They had massive repositories of freebies. Not the best stuff but it was free.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    By the way,since this is a repost,could you add a link to the original post somewhere up there?

  9. I wonder if we aren’t going to see this burn out a bit. When “Black Friday” first started, it actually had good deals, albeit in a low quantity. But now, if you poke through the big “80% off!” stickers and compare prices in the week before, a lot of the stuff isn’t even on sale. Some people have noticed GameStop doing this.

    I’m also noticing a lot of “Buy one, get 50% off next item”, which is a great way to get to put “50%!!!” in the ad, while actually being at most 25% per item, and that only if they cost exactly the same.

    Eventually, at this rate, it just won’t be “a thing” anymore.

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      Raising the price the week before a sale is illegal in the UK/EU and possibly a few other places. Not that this stops some people. I have heard allegations that there are games on Steam that have had their prices raised just before the current sale, to give the illusion of a deal (or to make a meagre reduction seem like a major one).

      I seem to remember as issue with GTAV in a previous Steam sale too, not sure if anything came of it though.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Given the volume involved, I imagined they’d just up the prices before whatever the cutoff is. If you have to elevate your prices for a month before knocking them back down for your sale, this is the time of year for it.

        1. Soylent Dave says:

          Consumer protection in the UK / EU being rather better than in the US is, I suspect, one of the reasons that Black Friday isn’t taking off over here (or rather, why it was attempted last year and the large retailers have backed away from it this year)

          Aside from the ‘sale’ requirements (which boil down to the sale price needing to be lower than the standard price in that particular shop *that year*, as well as over the preceding 28 days), our friendlier returns legislation definitely makes an impact (as well as faulty goods, we can return items which aren’t exactly as described, or which aren’t ‘fit for purpose’; and if purchased online, we don’t need a reason for a refund)

          ~30% of UK goods sold on Black Friday 2014 were returned, which was estimated to cost £0.5bn in lost revenue & staffing bills, or around half the total brought in by Black Friday in the first place.

          I think that probably has quite a lot to do with our not adopting it wholesale this year.

  10. Brandon says:

    You know, I know that stores push massive amounts of monetary value of goods, but I really wonder about the actual number of items sold. Christmas lends itself to higher-value spending, so I doubt stores have to stock up 1/2 their total NUMBER of items sold or even volume of items sold in a single month. Look at Wal-Mart and Target. Many of those stores now sell groceries, and they’re very much the store many people go to to buy toothpaste and bar soap and stuff like that. So while TVs cost a lot of money and take up a lot of space, you sell one and you’ve made as much profit as dozens of packages of toothpaste and bar soap.

    The other side of this that’s emerging as a result of all the Black Friday doorbuster stuff is lower quality. Electronics manufacturers, which have always made many minor variations of products for different retailers to help them avoid the perils of price matching, are now making lower-quality, feature-stripped versions of their products just for Black Friday. In reality, that TV which appears to cost half of what a “similar” model does is probably not discounted much at all because the manufacturer shaved costs by reducing quality and stripping out features.

    Pressure is so massive for retailers to offer “deals” that they’re having to be deceptive about things to keep up appearances. It’s a rather sad state of affairs. It makes me want to stock up on basics so for the entire stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas I don’t have to walk into any store that’s not a grocery store.

    1. James says:

      Having worked at a electronics store over the Christmas build up and the month of December, the Volume of stuff that goes out the door is shocking, stores moving from a delivery 2 times a month to 2 times a week and watching half a dozen tv’s go out the door a day will stay with me forever.

      Two things

      1. The poor guys on the shop floor, feel for them, they are tired, annoyed and underpaid, they probably got up in the dark, will go home in the dark, and have answered your question 200 times that day allready, and thats before they get the fun of dealing with flustered and frustrated customers who’s delivery might be late, because its Christmas and that’s a real possibility, and the customers who walk in at 6pm on Christmas eve and expect to get their entire list.

      2. The people in the warehouse making sure all online click collect orders are hunted down and reserved before they vanish from the shop floor, getting 20-30 calls per hour to find a thing in the back, which might not even exist. being given details from either a regular employee who knows that info to give, or a temp who doesnt. also all warehouses are cold as balls.

      Forgive the rant, i’ve worked this period before in retail. and i never wish to again. and ive seen customer service employees get the short end of the stick too often.

  11. John says:

    Here are a couple of encouraging Black Friday factoids, courtesy of the Economist. First, 45% of American shoppers expect to spend less this Black Friday than they did last year. Second, 40% of shoppers started Christmas shopping in October.

    I think that Americans have gotten used to Black Friday. The discounts, no matter how deep, seem less remarkable when they happen year after year. I think that we have also grown to expect massive and unpleasant crowds. We acknowledge that the price of that $99 piece of electronics isn’t really $99; it’s $99 plus the dollar value of the suffering we would have to go through in order to obtain it. (Somewhere, somehow, there has got to be an economics paper on this. I would write it myself, if only I had the data.)

    That’s why you see some stores advertising pre-Black Friday deals. It’s also why Amazon has been spamming my inbox for the last week. (I don’t know why they bothered. We were going to do most of our shopping there anyway.)

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      The local newspaper has been all over stories today about how little people are bothering with today. The lead for the morning of $big_chain_electronics_retailer opening at 6 AM to no line and unused porta-potties.

    2. Rosseloh says:

      We acknowledge that the price of that $99 piece of electronics isn't really $99; it's $99 plus the dollar value of the suffering we would have to go through in order to obtain it.


      What you said, PLUS the dollar value of having your piece of crap $99 electronic device fixed the next month.

      Black Friday special computers are historically a pile of junk – our repair shop gets a rush right after Christmas when things start failing because they were built to be so cheap.

  12. Decius says:

    The ship has sailed regarding Christmas before Halloween. This year I was doing my “I’m not middle aged!” rant about how the Christmas stuff was coming out before the end of summer.

    1. guy says:

      I could join in on that rant and I’m a college undergrad.

    2. MichaelG says:

      There’s a guy down the street from me who puts up his Christmas lights on Nov 1. Sigh.

      But let’s talk about the real issue. California grocery stores are going to start charging you for bags in January!

      1. Daimbert says:

        I put my Christmas lights up usually the second or third weekend in November. I don’t start turning them ON though until December. The reason? I’ve been burned before with leaving them until later in the month and then having to try to put them up when it’s really cold and snowy, so if I get a nice weekend in November, I’m putting them up.

        Also, here grocery stores have been charging for bags for years now. It’s only mildly annoying.

  13. Ilseroth says:

    Honestly I can’t be too mad, after a couple months having trouble finding a job, despite having years of customer service and some college education, I managed to get a seasonal gig at UPS. Honestly this will vastly improve my chances of getting a job post-season so I am pretty pleased.

    This was my first week and I can say, there’s a lot of packages comin out already and starting next week it is going overtime. Worked a bunch of jobs but so far this one is the most strenuous, getting in and out of that truck over and over and jogging all over the place is really tiring.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      That’s another really interesting point! The fluctuation in employment availability is probably really good for making sure the best people stay employed. There’s always a good chance every year of getting a job, and there’s always an excuse to let the slackers go when it’s done. I could imagine a world without the holiday rush where retail jobs became entrenched.

      On the other hand, I’ve never worked in retail, so this is all conjecture. Does anyone have news of how high the turnover is through the Christmas season?

    2. Seeker8998 says:

      I just picked up (again) a Package Handler position at FedEx, and I can say from experience that, if online shopping did take the place of Black Friday and other manners of holiday rushing, we’d have an entirely different but very real problem, namely “The 20 people in this facility can’t possibly process the presents for everyone in this x00,000 population city”. That kind of problem is why Amazon switched to shipping everything through…er, another company a few years back.

  14. Incunabulum says:

    “Wal-Mart made almost half a trillion bucks last year and the CEO got 25 million.”

    I think I talked about this last year. Walmart didn’t make almost half a trillion dollars – they *sold almost half a trillion dollars worth of goods* of which they, after subtracting the costs to them of buying those goods, salaries, maintenance, etc, got to keep slightly less than 3% of that total.

    And then had to apportion that out to shareholders, put aside for future emergencies or expansion plans, etc.

    For example, they had a *net sale* total of 482 billion dollars, made a profit of slightly less than 15 billion dollars, and paid shareholders 7.2 billion of that leaving the company with 7-8 billion – which is less than a week’s worth of operating expenses for the store.

    Not that your point doesn’t stand – executive compensation is a tiny percentage of their total wage/salary bill.

    1. Richard says:

      Now there’s a term I hate: “compensation”.

      It’s like being a CEO is forced on you by others against your will, instead of something that everyone who does that job intentionally sought out.

      How about we just call it “salary”/”pay”, “bonus” and “perks”?

      1. Retsam says:

        Compensation is a technical term with a broader meaning than salary (i.e. pay), which is one form of compensation, with things like health benefits being other forms of compensation. “Total Compensation” is the sum value of all the forms of compensation you get for doing your job.

        It’s not a term specific to CEOs or executives, and it’s definitely not meant to carry anything like the connotation that you’re putting to it.

      2. Incunabulum says:

        Because ‘compensation’ covers *everything* and employee receives in return for their labor and include monetary as well as non-monetary benefits.

        Even the guy standing at the door greeting people receives compensation.

        And yes, CEO’s get ‘compensated’ – like everyone else – because of opportunity cost. If they take the job at *your* company, then they can’t take the job offered elsewhere – so they expect you to compensate them appropriately so they don’t lose anything by working with you.

        Just like even the MW-getting backroom stocker does.

  15. Ninety-Three says:

    Hey Shamus, I just noticed that your From The Archives bar links to Shamus Plays WoW, which has a bunch of broken images on account of being five years old and hosted on the Escapist. I have no idea if that’s a solvable problem, but thought I’d let you know.

  16. Zak McKracken says:

    I’m not on Twitter, so I’ll just post off-topic here:
    “secure off-site open-source distributed revision control” — so, what are you using?

    I’ve just started using Tortoise-hg, which is fine but when editing something with multiple people it becomes a tedious experience as soon as two people edit the same file between commits. Especially because the included kdiff3 is just a terrible thing (I must know, have tried to use it for ages on Linux before I discovered Meld).

    So … I do wonder if there’s something better, knowing that there’s probably an infinite number of definitions for “better”, and thus as many answers as there are other tools…

    1. Shamus says:

      Tortoise-hg here, too. Hosted on Bitbucket.

    2. Cuthalion says:

      I use git myself. Personal projects hosted on bitbucket, work projects somewhere else.

      Not sure on the differences with Tortoise-hg, but it seems to work quite nicely. (Merge conflicts are still annoying, especially since the IDE’s built-in way of handling those is terrible.)

      1. Richard says:

        Unfortunately Tortoise hides most of the really nice features of hg and git, so if that’s your only interface you might as well be using SVN or CVS.

        Try out a few of the other GUIs.

  17. Josh Yeldham says:

    Encourage people to evenly distribute their shopping over a year.

    1. Benjamin Hilton says:

      The problem there is that people would then be moving the storage problem from the store to their own homes, which is a very difficult sell.

      1. JAB says:

        And if you buy stuff in February, it’s not going to be the HOT NEW EXCITING STUFF EVERYONE MUST HAVE in December. Not a problem for everyone, but can easily at least be a concern with kids.

        Not to mention the whole Buy something in July, Hide it in a nice safe place so it won’t be found, Find it 3 years later problem.

        1. Blackbird71 says:

          My mother once bought me a gift nearly 25 years ago, and to this day has no idea where it is.

  18. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    I didn’t read the earlier comments but I’m going to assume they missed the spelling and grammar error in the article, “But but it still happens this way every year.”

    Also being Australian, we have no “Black Friday” sales but we have a ton of sales on for Boxing Day.

    And one thing I really hated was seeing Christmas stuff starting to be sold way before Halloween, and straight after Christmas, Easter stuff begins to be sold, which is annoying as the only way to get Christmas stuff after Christmas is by buying things on Boxing Day.

  19. nm says:

    I heard a thing on the radio the other day saying that the term “black Friday” was coined by Philadelphia police officers in the 1920s. It’s not named that because it’s the day that retailers enter the black. It’s called that because it’s an awful day to be a police officer in a city (3rd largest in the US at the time) with lots of shopping destinations. Your great grandparents are telling you to get off their lawn right now.

    I’m not saying that things haven’t gotten steadily worse around the black Friday thing, just that it started before the depression. Actually, given an informal survey of my co-workers, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that brick and mortar retailers are doing less business on the day after Thanksgiving this year than they did in the late ’90s.

  20. Blackbird71 says:

    I am reminded that my grandmother always made it a point to finish her Christmas shopping by July. That may be a bit extreme, but I think we would all be happier with the situation (consumers and retailers alike) if more people could learn to plan ahead. It seems that a lot of the factors that lead to the existence of Black Friday stem from large portions of the population waiting until the last minute as it were to get things done.

  21. Pinkhair says:

    I have to disagree on one thing, this year in particular. Wal-Mart was specifically evil this year, when three days before Thanksgiving they quietly rescheduled people who were supposed to be off that day to work, even when they were in a position where there was little need for them.

  22. jd says:

    It’s utterly ridiculous that in the last few years Black Friday has been pushing well into Thanksgiving. Why not just start on Monday instead, if you’re not even bothering to wait for the thing you’re supposedly after to end?

    6am Friday doors opening, okay, not that much earlier if at all than normal open time for some businesses

    5 am Friday doors opening, you can get up for that if you want, but not me

    12am Friday doors opening, starting to get a little crazy

    5pm Thanksgiving doors opening, you all out of your ever loving minds

    I feel worst for the employees, who might want to actually spend the holiday as a holiday instead of an extra tense and joyless work day

    To me it felt like the whole thing jumped the shark about a decade ago, and has only continued getting more and more awful every year. Last year, looking at the ads, I couldn’t even find much that was even a deal worth going out into that sea of humanity unless it was a doorbuster only the very first people in line get (and they were probably camped out before the ads even got delivered).

  23. SG says:

    And black friday doesn’t even start at friday anymore, and goes for like month. Should they rename it to black month?

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