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The Awful Genius of Black Friday

Due to a shortage of cabs, I found myself walking from the West Side of Manhattan through Central Park home to my apartment on 2nd Ave.

As I was walking home, I walked past lines of people waiting over-anxiously for 12 a.m. to come around at the Best Buy near me.

Even from across the street, I could feel a palpable tension in the crowd. (I would later be told by a girl at Best Buy that there were 2 arrests made before the doors opened.)

The mere fact that people would be willing to hurt one another and go to jail over electronic prices made me decide to go shopping today.

Here is what I take away from shopping for 12hrs on Black Friday:

Retail creates an atmosphere that gives the buyer the illusion that if they don't buy mass amounts of items on sale, something bad will happen to them.

For a few minutes the atmosphere was enthralling, but then I watched two different people go into what I would call a full-fledged state of mania. That isn't enthralling, but it is sad.

What happened to these shoppers?

Many of these individuals had special "Black Friday" books of coupons with them that employees would not give out in the store (unless you really charmed the right people) making the books appear exceedingly valuable.

You can almost say the shoppers became psychologically dependent on a booklet that any other day of the year would be worth the paper it was printed on.

The first person I watched felt as if she was not getting enough good deals. As she approached the register, she started frantically grabbing things like odd sized batteries and blank CD disc packs by the armful.

It was not the type of buying that someone who wanted bargains would do.

It was different. The woman began to sweat and as she approached the register, it just got worse.

I watched another shopper buy a Sony camera for about $130, only to be sold 4 of the same cases for that camera.

I watched him touch about 20 different, very random items while he waited his turn to pay.

The Illusion of These Coupons

Back to the coupon booklets. Only the most charming and patient receive them in-store, with the store employees acting as absolute gatekeepers.

Since half of them were recent college graduates looking for a real job, I soon had an audience asking me questions, and giving eventual discounts, but they did not give me physical coupons because it would have created a stir.

After my first 20 minutes at Best Buy, I could understand why these employees would rather put input what seemed to be an endless amount of seemingly complex codes to the register rather than be caught with something that could be potentially harmful to them like the coupon books.

The manager at Modell's did give me a physical coupon to get a $160 pair of Nike's for less than $80, but she put it directly in my coat pocket (folded up) as if she was selling illegal narcotics.

It's not about saving money, it's about compulsiveness. Being from New Jersey, I have spent my fair share of long nights with old high school friends sitting at a Blackjack table at a Trump Casino in beaten up Atlantic City with random gamblers who were losing their life savings $5 at a time.

They were more in control mentally than the people I saw today.

Also, after all was said and done, the opportunity cost of Black Friday is so high that it's almost like you're working on minimum wage, but things like coupons, frantic atmospheres full of people who will punch one another for a Nintendo make it seem that you're getting a bargain that won't come around for another 365 days. (At least we get the one extra day, 2012 being a leap year.)