The Natural Selection of Modern Man: Holiday Shopping

Holiday shopping can be a frenzy, motivating people to extreme ends just to buy presents at a discount. Caitlin Boersma discovers that people’s behaviors are at their most Darwinistic come Christmas season.

People are nuts. That’s the only logical solution I can come up with to explain the behavior of shoppers on Black Friday. I can wrap my head around flocking to the mall the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of the numerous holiday sales, but I heard some stories this year that were unbelievable.

A friend of mine told me that Best Buy was going to have some great deals on various electronics and he planned to save money on all his expensive Christmas gifts. I asked if I could join him, but he informed me that he was going in the middle of the night. He had to get in line early to receive a ticket for each of the products he wanted, then wait in line for the store to open at 5 a.m. I told my friend I would not be joining him after all.

Apparently his plan didn’t even work out. He arrived at the store at 2 a.m. and the line was wrapped around the shopping center twice. The tickets for the products he wanted were gone and the items were sold out by Friday morning.

The Fresno Bee told the story of a woman who was in line at 7 a.m. the morning of Thanksgiving for the opening of Best Buy at 5 a.m. Friday. Now that’s just gross.

I understand the trade-off of taking the joy out of shopping in order to save money. Internet shopping has shown us that one doesn’t need to see or hold a product to be persuaded to buy it. Customers know what they want thanks to advertisements and product descriptions. If the fun of browsing stores for new products and styles is taken away to save a few bucks, so be it.

What I don’t understand is the amount of suffering that people are willing to go through to receive such deals. Maybe I don’t have a clear idea about the amount of money we’re talking about here, but I know it would take more than saving a few hundred dollars on a laptop for me to sit in a parking lot in Fresno for twenty-two hours. The Best Buy newspaper insert told me I could save 50% on a $3,000 plasma television. How about this: I don’t buy a plasma television at all. Then I can keep all of my money.

The more I read, however, I realized it’s not even about the money. One family got in line early for the midnight opening of KB Toy Outlet. They were planning to buy an $18 Razor Scooter and a $4.49 Cabbage Patch doll. Don’t tell me those crappy toys cost more than that throughout the rest of the year.

Perhaps our primal instincts have evolved to such a dignified extent that instead of fighting over the best piece of meat, we scrap over the cheapest video game console. If you can stand the elements for an entire day you will reap the reward of low-priced electronics. I’m glad Best Buy handed out tickets for their merchandise or I may have been reading about Black Friday murders. “The $2.49 DVDs were worth it!” the naturally selected would say in his/her defense.

I love acquiring a mass of material goods for a small amount of money, but I’m a little disgusted that people are willing to shop all night and wait in line for days in order to receive these savings. Even more so at the retailers who are perpetuating this behavior and making their minimum-wage employees work in the middle of the night.

As I purchased my half-off shoes at the mall on Friday afternoon I told the cashier, who had already been working for eight hours, to “hang in there.” I thought briefly about my part as a consumer contributing to the Black Friday profit and helping to continue this crazy behavior, but I quickly waved the thought away. The $24 boots were worth it.

Caitlin Boersma is studying political science and English, but spends most of her time analyzing pop culture. Her premise for a new reality TV show, Killing Andy Milonakis, has yet to be picked up by VH1. She is notorious for spending a week’s wages on a ticket to see Morrissey live.