Black Friday

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 2nd, 2013

Economics 101

Black Friday kicks off the Retailer Sprint at the Homestretch of the Retailing Year

The Thanksgiving weekend is over.  As is Black Friday.  It came.  We shopped.  And now it’s gone.  But have you ever wondered why we call it Black Friday?  Why do we call something so many people look forward to and enjoy ‘black’.  A color more associated with death and mourning?  Because of accounting.  That’s why.  Or so goes the myth.

Retailers survive on razor thin margins.  And many are lucky to break even through most of the year.  While occasionally their costs exceed their revenue.  And when that happens a business is in the ‘red’.  Which is a bad thing.  For if a business is in the ‘red’ too long it can go out of business.  Enter Black Friday.  Which kicks off the retailer sprint at the homestretch of the retailing year.  And the day retailers finally get well out of the red.  And comfortably into the black.

Retailers get most profitable in the last month of the year.  Because of Christmas.  As we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth by buying Christmas presents for our loved ones.  A bit off message for the true meaning of Christmas.  But it’s now part of the American tradition.  Because we love giving and receiving presents.  Something retailers are grateful for.  For it allows them to become profitable (or much more profitable) based on one month’s worth of sales.  After treading water for the first 11 months.

Accessories and Impulse Buying make for a Successful Black Friday

So what is the secret for a successful Black Friday?  It’s a two-prong strategy.  Get people into the stores with deep discounting.  Things stores break even on or even lose money.  And try to get them to buy other things once they are in the stores.  Things that have little discounting.  And higher markups.  They accomplish this through two tactics.  Accessories.  And impulse buying.

Impulse buying is getting people to buy things they did NOT come into the store to buy.  Retailers will space the discounted items strategically throughout the store.  And place items with higher markups on the pathway to the discounted items.  Things that are so good that people say, “That looks like something I want.  And I’m in such good spirits because of the huge savings on that other thing I’ve always wanted that I’ll throw this into the cart, too.  Why not?  After all, ’tis the season to be jolly.”

Unlike impulse buying accessories are not things that we fall in love with when we see them.  Accessories are the things that allow us to enjoy those discounted things more.  Things that are a pretty good bet that we will buy them.  So they mark these items up a lot.  You may buy a discounted television and home theatre system but the cables that connect the pieces together are typically not included.  A laptop needs a bag to carry it in.  Electronic toys need batteries.  Video game systems need video games.  Smart phones need service contracts.  Printers need paper and extra ink cartridges.  Etc.  Things few people rush excitedly to the store to buy.  But often buy them because they increase the enjoyment of those steep discounted items.

It’s a Good Time to Buy and Sell Stocks but a Bad Time to buy Groceries and Christmas Presents

There is one other element needed for a successful Black Friday.  People must have disposable income.  Or they must be confident in their employment.  Such that they are willing to run up their credit cards because they are relatively certain that they’ll have a paycheck for the indefinite future.  If people don’t have this then all the discounting in the world won’t help make Black Friday a success.  So the prevailing economy matters.  As does the economic outlook.  In fact, the success of Black Friday can tell us the true state of the economy.  And how people feel about the economic outlook.

So what has this Black Friday told us about the state of the economy?  That it’s bad (see Black Friday Weekend Spending Drop Pressures U.S. Stores by Matt Townsend posted 12/2/2013 on Bloomberg).

The first spending decline on a Black Friday weekend since 2009 reinforced projections for a lackluster holiday, increasing chances retailers will extend the deep discounts already hurting their profit margins.

Purchases at stores and websites fell 2.9 percent to $57.4 billion during the four days beginning with the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. While 141 million people shopped, about 2 million more than last year, the average consumer’s spending dropped 3.9 percent to $407.02, the survey showed…

For the fourth year in a row, disposable incomes in 2013 have only inched up and job growth remains inconsistent. As a result, low-income Americans will again have a less-merry season than affluent consumers, who are more flush thanks in part to surging U.S. stock markets, which have attained all-time highs. Consumer confidence declined in November to a seven-month low, according to the Conference Board.

“Consumers are generally not in a great mood, feeling very uneasy about the economy and their jobs, and are looking for value this year,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, wrote today in a note to clients. “They have their list and will check it twice, but they are not going to the mall and grabbing a bunch of random stuff because it is on sale or looks nice…”

This kind of so-called mission shopping, where a consumer buys one bargain-priced item and then leaves, will hurt profit margins, Goyal said. It may also explain why the number of shoppers increased and their spending fell, she said…

While traffic at the Mall of America was higher than last year, shoppers planned ahead of time where they were going and what they were buying, said Maureen Bausch, the mall’s executive vice president. There was “a lot of mission shopping, and you don’t normally see that until later in the season,” she said.

That’s bad news for retailers, who normally get about 20 percent of their holiday sales from impulse purchases, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for NPD Group Inc.

More people shopped but each shopper spent less.  Resulting in an overall spending decline.  The first since 2009.  The last year of the Great Recession.  The worst recession since the Great Depression.  So these numbers are not good numbers.  And they’re not good because of the economy.  Disposable incomes are flat.  People are worried about the economy.  And worried about losing their jobs.  If they haven’t already.  So there is no impulse buying.  Only mission shopping.  Getting the one thing they came in for.  And then leaving the store without buying anything else.  Because they haven’t a dime to spare.  The economy and economic outlook are that bad.

Over 10 million people have left the labor force since President Obama assumed office.  Making for a bleak Christmas on Main Street.  But Wall Street is doing well under the Obama recovery.  While quantitative easing has raised grocery prices (or reduced portion sizes) that perpetual inflation has inflated stock prices.  And real estate prices.  Making it a good time to make money buying and selling expensive assets.  But a terrible time to buy groceries.  And Christmas presents.

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FT198: “Obamacare will fail because you can’t incentivize people to make their lives worse.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 29th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Stores used the Incentives of Black Friday to get People to do what they Wanted

A belated happy Thanksgiving.  And a belated happy Black Friday.  We say belated because Black Friday was already here by the time Friday woke from its sleepy slumber.  No more waiting in line Friday morning for those stores to open.  No.  Today if you snooze (i.e., spend Thanksgiving with the family at home) you lose.  Because it’s first come first served.  Which means if you wanted to get some of those deep discounts before they run out you didn’t let anything silly like celebrating Thanksgiving with the family get in your way.

Now everyone loves a bargain.  It’s why we scan the Sunday sales papers.  And search online for the best price.  But in the Obama ‘recovery’ there isn’t a whole lot of spending going on.  As there isn’t a whole lot of employment going on.  Since President Obama assumed office his policies have destroyed some 10 million jobs.  And one thing about unemployed people.  They definitely want a bargain.  Especially if they want a good Christmas for their family during the dark times of the Obama presidency.

But there is a greater lesson Black Friday can tell us other than President Obama is a bad president.  Especially in things economic.  Why are stores opening on Thanksgiving?  Because they’re cruel and evil forcing their workers to slave away during a holiday?  No.  It’s not that.  In fact, some employees love working on a holiday.  For they get paid more working on a holiday than they normally would.  Allowing them to earn extra money to give their families a good Christmas during the dark times of the Obama presidency.  As it turns out shoppers and workers alike like Black Friday.  For it allows each to have more for less.  And that is the great lesson of Black Friday.  Getting people to do what you want by offering them something they want.  Or, in other words, offering them an incentive.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 pitted Northern Republicans against Slave-Owning Southern Democrats

Slaves working in the planter South had no desire to be slaves.  Yet they were slaves.  Why?  There weren’t slaves in the North.  Only in the South.  The blacks in the north chose not to be slaves.  While those in the South had no choice.  The planter elite in the South, the ‘Old World’ planter aristocracy, used force.  And having a larger force in Washington than they normally would have (thanks to the Three-Fifths Compromise that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation in Congress) they were able to use the force of government to continue to force blacks into slavery.  The Southern Democrats (i.e., the ‘Old World’ planter aristocracy) were able to keep the black man enslaved until the mid 19th century.  Even using the power of the federal government to override states’ rights in the North.  Using the Fugitive Slave Act to force northern states to return fugitive slaves to their Southern Democrat owners.  The ‘Old World’ planter aristocracy.

This is coercion.  This is how you get people to do what they don’t want to do.  Using the power of the federal government the Southern Democrats kept their slaves in bondage.  Also, using the power of the federal government they forced those in the North who wanted to help ‘fugitive’ slaves to stay free return their slaves or else.  That ‘or else’ being the full weight of the federal government coming down on them with extreme prejudice.  But when the North became more populated control of the House of Representatives favored the larger populated North.  Despite the Three-Fifths Compromise.  Which left the Senate.  And as each state got two senators how the new states entered the union mattered.  For the planter elite to hold their power over the United States.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was an early attempt to put slavery onto the path of oblivion.  Those in the North did not want it.  The planter elite in the South did.  So they compromised.  Slavery could remain in the South to appease the planter elite but the compromise prohibited slavery in the new Louisiana Territory that Thomas Jefferson purchased above the 36°30′ parallel (about the southern border of Missouri).  Except in the state of Missouri.  Then came the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 and the idea of popular sovereignty.  Throwing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 out the window.  These two states were both above the 36°30′ parallel.  The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 said the first people into the fledging states could choose for themselves if they would be a slave-state or a free-state.  Which led to a mad rush to Kansas.  And a bloody civil war there.  That eventually led to the American Civil War.  To settle once and for all the issue of slavery in America.  Would the Southern Democrats prevail and keep the black man in bondage?  Or would the Republicans free the slaves?

Obamacare is less like Black Friday and more like Slavery

Even if you flunked your history class you should know the answer to this.  Abraham Lincoln and his Republicans defeated the Southern Democrats and won the American Civil War.  Freeing the slaves.  Of course, the Southern Democrats were not good losers.  They gave us the KKK.  Then the Jim Crowe Laws.  The separate but equal nonsense that didn’t exist in the Republican North.  The old southern aristocracy were not huge fans of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.  All they wanted was privilege.  They wanted the Old World in the New World.  And the planter elite fought bitterly to keep that.  Well, not them as much as their fellow southerners they lied to about states’ rights.  Getting them (most of who were too poor to own a single slave) to fight and sacrifice their lives to maintain the institution of slavery.  To maintain the privilege of the southern aristocracy.

So there you have examples of incentive and coercion.  Black Friday incentivized people to hire in for seasonal jobs during the holiday season.  And brought people into stores with deep discounting.  Everyone got something they wanted.  And so they did what the store owners wanted.  People worked for them on Thanksgiving.  And people came into the stores on Thanksgiving.  Both of their own free will.  Now contrast that to slavery.  Where there was no free will.  Only the coercion of the federal government.  Where fear and intimidation compelled slaves to remain slaves.  And their only incentive was to obey their masters to avoid physical harm.

With the Supreme Court ruling the penalty of Obamacare became a tax.  Allowing the federal government to compel people to buy health insurance or suffer the consequences.  A ‘tax’ that will grow in time.  Buy insurance or else.  With that ‘or else’ being the full force and fury of the IRS.  Something most people would find more unpleasant than a colonoscopy.  Without any anesthetic.  No, a letter from the IRS is something no one wants to see in their mail.  For few things will fill you with fear and dread more.  This is the enforcement mechanism of Obamacare.  Which they need because people otherwise wouldn’t spend more for less.  Higher insurance premiums to cover things they will never need (a gay man will never need prenatal care).  And sky-high deductibles that will be like having no insurance.  As everything will be out of pocket until you reach that sky-high deductible.  Which few people will reach unless they have a catastrophic illness or accident.  This is why people are NOT signing up for Obamacare.  Because Obamacare ain’t no Black Friday.  Obamacare is offering nothing the people want.  At prices higher than they ever had to pay for health insurance before.  Leaving them with less to spend on their family.  Forcing them to cut out things they once enjoyed.  Which is why Obamacare will fail.  Because you can’t incentivize people to make their lives worse.  No, to do that you need the fearful power of the state.  Just like the Southern Democrats used to maintain the institution of slavery.

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