Cyber Week Deals: Why They Embody the Worst of American Consumerism

The post-Thanksgiving consumerist orgy known as Black Friday now extends a full week online. And despite some Cyber Monday obituaries, sales have risen a staggering 30% over last year, and are expected to remain particularly robust throughout the week. For better or for worse, retailers keep pumping up the energy and filling our inboxes. I’ve received over two hundred Cyber Monday emails and counting, and I can’t even remember the last time I bought something online!

That’s a great opening salvo for the retail industry, and Cyber Monday does offer a significant advantage over Black Friday: convenience.

For one, you manage to skip over the yearly Thunderdome at your local Wal-Mart, which in this year's estimation (by The Onion) has claimed over 42 million lives. You won’t have to punch a soccer mom in the face to get a sweet HDTV, or pull a gun in a checkout line. In real life, there's a doorbuster for every couple of hundred rabid consumers clawing at the doors; by contrast, the hustle-and-bustle of Cyber Monday with all-day deals and bursting warehouses seems almost quaint. It's a kinder, gentler capitalism made possible by distance, cheap shipping and the Internet.

And just look at those deals.

Here’s the problem: unless you’re investing, you can’t save money by spending it. There’s some downward pressure on prices during the period immediately after Thanksgiving, yes, but there are also consistently good deals throughout the year. Online shoppers can afford to be pickier, and targeting your spending towards one artificially-created retail holiday makes no sense. Unless you’re shopping for absolute necessities — probably the least likely things to be sold on Cyber Monday — you’re saving money on your discretionary budget (wants), and likely on expensive things you never would have considered spending money on anyhow. Increase sales volume and pre-sale markups ensure all but the most careful consumers end up not saving too much, and if anything prices for most items will remain neutral or trend downwards until the closure of the holiday season. Ironically, the best deals are in early December, as retailers try to sell off the last of their Black Friday stock.

This is all a big lie told to your face — a systemic attempt to squeeze you for money at a convenient time for big corporations hoping to heave themselves into the black before the end of the year. You don’t have to buy it, either. Do your Christmas shopping over the course of two months rather than a single flashy day; or better yet, find a unique gift or make one yourself rather than be seduced by high-priced flim-flam.

Whether or not you find a supposedly great deal, Cyber Week isn’t here for you: it’s here for the retailers. Remember that when doing your shopping, and you’ll come out with a thicker wallet, and maybe just a little bit more self-respect.