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Goodbye, Black Friday - Hello, Cyber Monday 

Black Friday 2009 has come and gone. Thankfully, there were no fatalities this year.

There were, however, two brawls at Wal-Mart stores in Southern California, according to Portland Examiner blogger Christina Gregoire: “In Upland, a manager had to call in police because two customers were fighting inside the store.  Also, the Rancho Cucamonga Wal-Mart had to call for help when two customers were knocking each other around in the electronics section. There were no serious injuries.”

Before we start feeling all smug and superior toward those vulgar Californians, the same blogger reports there was a full-scale melee at the Jantzen Beach Toys ‘R’ Us near Portland “as two women started swearing and spitting at each other.  About 100 people who were lined up in the dark started plowing in front of each other.  Fortunately, 14 police units were dispatched and got things under control.”

For some reason, The Oregonian chose to downplay this incident: “Police responded to a tussle that broke out at the Jantzen Beach Toys ‘R’ Us store as shoppers who'd started the line on Thanksgiving night clashed with late-comers gathering by the door.”

Fourteen police cars dispatched? Some “tussle.”

Still it was an improvement over last year, when the Black Friday shopping frenzy produced at least three fatalities. A Long Island Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as crazed shoppers crashed through the store's glass doors just before the scheduled 5 a.m. opening. “According to police, officers who arrived to perform CPR on the dying man were also stepped on and injured, as was a pregnant woman,” Wikipedia records. Meanwhile, “two men shot each other to death in a Palm Desert, California Toys ‘R’ Us after they argued in the store over a toy.”

And it’s all in honor of the Prince of Peace.

I’ve been around for more than 60 Black Fridays now and I can’t remember when or how things started to get so crazy. According to Wikipedia again (for what it’s worth) the term “Black Friday” was first applied to the day after Thanksgiving in the mid-1960s by Philadelphia police, who hated contending with the crowds and traffic jams downtown. But there wasn’t any mention of shopping-inspired violence.

My guess is that the Black Friday insanity started after stores began opening their doors earlier and earlier – 6 a.m., 5 a.m., sometimes even 4 a.m. This has much the same effect as putting hundreds of starving wolves in a cage, dangling a cow carcass in front of the cage, then throwing open the cage.

The early returns show that Black Friday sales this year were basically flat compared with last year – up a mere 0.5%. Much of that has to do with the lingering recession, of course.

But I wonder if retailers haven’t gone so far overboard in hyping the Black Friday madness that it’s counterproductive – that a lot of people are either too scared or too repulsed to take part in the ordeal. Market observers point to a growing trend by shoppers to skip Black Friday and get equally good or even better bargains on “Cyber Monday” without having to wake up at 3 a.m. and risk life and limb.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

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