Opinion and Economic Analysis and Banking & Finance

HICKS: Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday

November 27, 2010

Faithful readers will recall that Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday. I love it because it is a time when the secular meets the spiritual, and it is a time when no matter who we are or what our circumstances are, we can recognize things for which we must be grateful.

I also like Thanksgiving because it is so heartily celebrated in the U.S. Army. Recall, the first official Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President Lincoln in the wake of the terrible summer of 1863. Soldiers have remembered it well ever since, and that long memory makes me thankful.

Thanksgiving weekend is also a time for other important things—football and chestnut dressing, for example. Even fans of the hapless Detroit Lions, those perennial Thanksgiving Day favorites, can thank their Creator for a season near its end.

For those engaged in retail trade, it is also a time for selling, which is good. What Adam Smith called the very natural human inclination to “truck and barter” is something to be grateful for, and is among the many things that allow us to live a life fulfilled. While some might complain the holidays are too commercial, only North Korea is dutifully free of that sin.

The holiday season in the United States has morphed into a time of concentrated purchases. For some sectors—like clothing and consumer electronics—something like a quarter of total annual sales happens over the holidays. Ironically, the seasonal crush of shoppers introduces all kinds of efficiencies into retail trade and manufacturing. Orders for late November and December purchases were made last summer, and transportation and retail employment will surge beginning this week.

The productivity of individual workers will rise as a flood of buyers descends onto malls across the country. If we didn’t have a gift-giving season of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, we’d have to invent one to realize its improved retail efficiencies.

That doesn’t mean we have to enjoy the experience. I’ve probably written more about Wal-Mart than any living person—one lengthy book and a dozen articles. But, you will not catch me there on Black Friday. Indeed, the list of adventures in which I would rather participate than a post-Thanksgiving Wal-Mart romp includes a self-administered, anesthetic-free appendectomy. I detest shopping. This is convenient, since gift cards are the newest incarnation of curmudgeonly holiday gift giving. I shall use them to my advantage this season.

In addition to Black Friday, the aptly named day-after-Thanksgiving shopping spree, we now have Cyber Monday. This is the day nearly $900 million in online purchases will be made nationally. (Do remember, as I will, to report any unpaid sales tax on your online purchases.)

This year, we have added to our lexicon Small Business Saturday. On this day, everyone is encouraged to shop at their local small businesses. This is wise counsel. The trick is in finding a place to shop that offers both football and food—Scotty’s Brewhouse perhaps?•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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