Nov. 30 2015 04:51 PM

Technology is changing how we shop

A sparse Black Friday crowd at Best Buy

    In the same way video killed the radio star and digital cameras punk'd Polaroid and Kodak, technology and societal trends are well into the process of making Black Friday their latest blood red victim, a CTRL Delete on the keyboard of retail history.

    When rare wind and rain woke me very early Black Friday morning, and I was compelled to leave bed anyway by the remains of two Thanksgiving dinners demanding exit. I figured I might as well see what the madhouse was like at the mall. I had nothing better to do and I'm fascinated by things that repulse me.

    Except there was no madness. By 6:30 a.m. at Mission and Fashion Valley, Black Friday had already come and gone. At 7:30 a.m., the line for Best Buy still had fewer than 100 people.

    At first I thought this was a good thing—people are rejecting consumerism! But as I dug a bit deeper, I realized no, actually, it means the battle to preserve the sanctity of Thanksgiving has been lost.

    By cloudy and wet sunrise Black Friday morning, most of the hardcore shopping was already done and the money spent. Black Friday is now sloppy seconds, like the turkey that's been sitting in cold gravy overnight.

    According to the e-commerce software consultancy Channel Advisor, online shopping on Thanksgiving Day 2015 rose 43 percent over last year. Combine that with Target, Macy's, Best Buy and other big box stores opening at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving night, and the Door Buster thrill is gone.

    "The psychology of shopping has changed," said Nii Ahene, Chief Operating Officer of CPC Strategy, a San Diego company that helps businesses steer people to their products via Google and other search engines. "People no longer feel 'stuck'...they can buy whenever they want and it gets shipped to them."

    Which leaves two kinds of hardcore Black Friday shoppers: The ones who want to be there and the ones who have to be there.

    "The big difference now is that there's a real vector to avoid all that craziness if you want to," says Jim McArthur, founder of the local innovations agency Command & Control. "There are still people who enjoy putting their battle gear on and physically throwing themselves into the fray, but usually there's almost always a way to get a better deal online."

    Unless you can't, because the deal isn't quite good enough or you're not Internet savvy or you don't have a credit card. Which brings us back around to the technology divide between the haves and have-nots, when the people who show up at Door Buster openings to get a flat screen TV for $199 are the ones who most desperately need to (if anyone can be said to desperately need a flat-screen TV).

    Combine them with the cut-throat consumer crazies who live for getting the cheapest deal possible in their cart, and you begin to see how technology has led to not only diminished crowds on Black Friday, but also the increase in violence and pillaging behavior you've watched across YouTube for the past couple years.

    What's happening with shopping reminds me of TV producer Tim Kling's notorious "saps and dipshits" comment from several years ago. Kling is the creator of Heroes, the NBC superhero adventure series that started strong but then quickly sucked, which returned earlier this year.

    Kling was talking about how Heroes' problems stemmed from being a serialized narrative amid a sea change in how television is being watched—pre-recorded and/or streamed, binged, commercials excised, etc. All the smart people, the tech savvy, the demographics with the money—they control their experience with the show.

    What you're left with for people who actually watch television live are the "saps and dipshits who can't figure out how to watch it in a superior way."

    This explains why television is splintered between a small amount that is excellent—usually on premiere platforms like HBO, Showtime and Netflix—and absolute dumbed-down, sex-obsessed, lower common denominator dreck like "reality" television. The television business model now depends on either a subscription model or the glaze of the saps and dipshits who don't have a DVR and can't afford HBO.

    The same is becoming true for holiday shopping and most likely all shopping. The smart money stays home and shops all month long. The only people out on Black Friday are the saps and dipshits. But maybe it was always that way. I mean...I was there.


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