The attacks, shootings and pepper-sprayings that took place in conjunction with the Black Friday, 2011 shopping event begs several significant questions. Is the hype created by a retailer’s Black Friday deals and the violence committed by consumers rushing to take advantage of those specials, perpetuating a social problem? Should a retailer conduct its business to keep consumers safe from harm during shopping or does the purpose of maximizing profits negate a retailer’s responsibility to public safety? Who is to blame when the hype gets out of hand?
A corporation is ethically obligated to consider if it CAN do something, and whether it SHOULD do something. Conducting business ethically is not exemplified by driving consumers crazy with anticipation of mega-deals on the next “big thing” to the point of potentially injuring the very persons who make profits for the company. Retailers may have gone too far in deifying material objects as something worth risking life and limb to obtain.
Some would argue, however, that the purpose of a corporation is to maximize profits for shareholders. Following this path of reasoning, retailers must make business decisions to align themselves for the best competitive advantage against other retailers by engaging the consumer earlier and earlier during the Black Friday shopping event. For retailers, Black Friday means the opportunity to make a significant dent in their retail sales figures for the year.
For consumers, the hype builds to a fever pitch by Thanksgiving Day as they are bombarded with advertising hyping the shopping event. They spend hours in long lines waiting for stores to open, thereby creating frustrated, tired, anxious, and potentially aggressive consumers. The combination of frustrated consumers mobbing stores, whipped into frenzy by retailers who are hoping to reap the benefits at the cash register creates a public safety issue that is dangerous and likely to repeat itself next year.
Retailers might argue that consumers have an obligation to comport themselves safely. Shoppers should assume the liability for their conduct. So it is improbable that corporations are going to modify their retail strategies to minimize profits on Black Friday. Nor are they likely to develop safety protocols to help keep consumers safe. Therefore it is up to the consumer to develop a strategy to stay safe while shopping.
Not giving in to the hype created by retailers, getting some sleep before going shopping and leaving the pepper spray or a gun at home is an excellent way to stay safe while shopping on Black Friday. Try to remember that, at the end of the day, one is just buying “stuff”. That great deal you got on a 52″ plasma big screen isn’t going to mean much if you wind up in the hospital because of the beating you received while trying to make the purchase.
Whether it is the responsibility of the retailer to use better judgment when driving consumers wild with anticipation of mega-savings, or the responsibility of the consumer to act like adults, the issue of consumer safety during shopping is one that should be addressed. In the end, a serious injury and the lawsuit to follow may be the great equalizer. Unfortunately, the images that will be taken away from this Black Friday are those of violence. Not the image that most retailers intended.