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Deals and Lethal Shoppers: Black Friday in the USA

Killer Deals and Lethal Shoppers: Black Friday in the USA


by Binoy Kampmark

When Wal-Mart becomes the scene of death for America’s frantic burghers, things must be getting desperate in the world’s largest economy. Black Friday, that opportune moment for America’s deranged shopper to expunge any available cash prior to Christmas, was darker than usual this year.

The ritual is characteristically demonic. Families are done with Thanksgiving dinners and desperate to leave the company of relatives. Shopping is the ideal escapist therapy, and items from computers to basic goods go on sale at slashed prices. Provided you get there for early opening time. Queues start at the crack of dawn across the country. Doors open, some buckling under the strain of patrons. Then comes a throng stronger than a mad Pamplona bull charge.

This year the pressure was, literally, lethal. Dozens were crushed, four shoppers were hospitalized, and a worker for Wal-Mart was killed in a Long Island store. The 34-year old individual was located at the entrance at the fateful 5 am opening time, when he breathed his last before a crushing crowd of lethal patrons. After all, the business of America remains business.

The pundits and doctors of America’s economic health chorused about the rise in sales that supposedly bucked a trend of deflationary spending. The National Retail Federation claimed on Sunday that repeat trips by America’s product-hungry shoppers, and frenetic purchases on the web, drove up sales. Numbers were up from last year’s figures of 147 million to 172 million. As Reuters reported, ‘The average amount of money spent by shoppers over the weekend rose 7.2 percent form a year ago to $372.57 per person.’

As usual, eyes should be peeled as to what exactly is being bought. Plasma screen sales were not highest on the agenda of killer shoppers, even if some parents decided to run down their reserves to satisfy their overly spoilt offspring. Little Johnnie does, after all, need the latest gadget to satisfy his technological whims.

Wal-Mart on the other hand, could not have wished for the recession sooner. That monster of the ‘every day’ low price recorded sales last month that went up from 2.4 percent from the previous year. While Wal-Mart is doing well in its global operations, the American shopper is keeping it in business. Target, on the other the hand, is considerably off mark with its appeal, as are boutique outlets.

Figures are also deceptive, and the number crunching wizards are not to be trusted on that score. With that keen statistical lie, growth sales of 3 percent must be paired off with inflation levels which have cut deeply into it. Rises in the consumer price index easily wipe out any supposed growth in consumer spending (even if some fear deflation), which has taken a battering across the economy. In real terms, there is no movement, and in fact a fall from previous years.

With the plans for yet another shot of economic steroids for the ailing patient, this time from the incoming Obama administration, we can only wait to see if the world’s biggest economy is going to recover any time soon. In the meantime, Christmas sales are bound to be miserably low. And probably less lethal.

*************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge.

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