Editorial: Black Friday, supply chains and even more stuff

Black Friday is upon us, the traditional opening of the Christmas and holiday shopping season. This day is foreshadowed by the annual tinseling and trimming of store shelves beginning roughly Nov. 1, the day Halloween candy is marked down.

Black Friday is a fixture in our cyclical consumer culture, and it’s all about the bargains. This year, the National Retail Federation predicts 108 million Americans will shop on Black Friday, a couple million more than years past, and we’ll spend 8 to 10 percent more in November and December than we did in 2020.

At the same time, experts predict supply chain problems could mean that the Legos, Barbies and other hot toys and gifts shoppers want under the tree this year might be tougher to come by.

Shoppers also may have less selection than they’re accustomed to. “Retailers might focus on specific items rather than trying to have a huge range of everything,” Mathew Isaac, professor of marketing at Seattle University, told the website nerdwallet.com.

We’re used to having what we want when we want it, even paying a premium for the privilege. But supply chain problems have shown the frailties of such common assumptions. We’re not used to seeing empty store shelves, but they’ve appeared now and then during the pandemic. Economists say we should get used to seeing more of this in the future for a host of reasons.

Ironically, while we fret about getting stuff, many of us have so much stuff that sometimes we can’t give it away.

For example, a large, hand-painted sign between Columbus and Nashville recently beckoned passersby with the word “Free.” The sign pointed to a table off the side of the road with items from the practical to knickknacks and do-dads. One that stood out from the road because of its bright color was a little orange-and-black plastic Halloween Jack-o’-lantern. Its jagged little smile and triangle eyes had seen happier times filled with candy in the clutches of a young trick-or-treater.

There are shelves of books on decluttering. There are multiple-step programs on how to simplify your life. A much-read Forbes article is headlined “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff.” A Google search for “too much stuff” returns 1.59 billion results.

Down the road from the free table, rows of self-storage units housed more stuff. Mordor Intelligence Research estimates the value of the self-storage industry in the United States was $87 billion in 2019. It is expected to grow to $115 billion by 2025. Too much stuff is big business. It’s even bigger than all of the economic activity of Black Friday weekend — Americans in 2020 spent a comparatively paltry $61 billion in stores and online between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

But those are all just numbers and logic. Those have no place in a season when we bring large pine trees indoors and sing about flying reindeer.

The holidays call for the shiny and the bright and the new. We understand a child’s thrill at unpacking a brand new toy because we remember that special feeling ourselves. It’s impossible to put a dollar value on that feeling on Christmas morning.

After all, no one dreams of a used bike for Christmas, and most of us would rather play Santa than the Grinch. Even if the gift ends up in storage someday.

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