Advice For the Ad-Battered

This isn’t directly related to politics, but since some of you may still be trembling on the threshold of a decision to go out into the commercial wilds of Black Friday, here’s a snippet from Derek Thompson’s cautionary advice at The Atlantic going into the Holiday:

The biggest mistake that people make on Black Friday is that they assume that the most popular day of the year to shop is the best day of the year to buy anything. If you’re walking into a store at 5 AM Thursday morning, you’re probably expecting floor-kissing prices in every corner. But store-wide discounts aren’t in the best interest of the store. It’s more common that a few tantalizing items will be sold at a loss to lure shoppers through the door while smart floor design guides them toward more profitable (even full-priced) items. “Black Friday is about cheap stuff at cheap prices, and I mean cheap in every connotation of the word,” Dan de Grandpre, a veteran deal expert, told the New York Times.

Stores know you’re making this mistake, and they know how to manipulate floor traffic to their higher-margin stuff. As experts in “retail ergonomics” (it’s a thing) have shown, counterclockwise traffic flows result in more spending; putting high-margin items at eye-level to the customers’ right is most likely to motivate a purchase; and forcing you to walk around a display is an easy way to draw our attention to items the store wants us to throw in the cart.

But Thompson’s final tip is the most important, and is relevant to the desire for more More Stuff every day of the year:

Black Friday is exhausting. And when you feel exhausted, your brain gets drunk with stupid. It’s decision fatigue, it’s leg fatigue, it’s everything fatigue. Retail stores know this. So they put cheap stuff tantalizingly close to our arms in the checkout aisle. It’s so cheap, and small, and cute, I have to have it, your decision-fatigued brain will plead. Don’t listen.

Hard to do. Here’s the classic George Carlin routine (with mild profanity) about our insatiable desire for “stuff.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.