Sunday April 20, 2014

Knox: Cross-border shopping a moral dilemma

"It’s Black Friday,” she said. “Want to go to Wally World?”

“Wait,” I replied. “I have to reload.”

A seasoned shopper would be better prepared. Down in the U.S., where the Black Friday tradition is more deeply entrenched, no self-respecting consumer would ever run out of ammo.

Turned out we’re a week late, anyway. Canadians don’t quite have the handle of this Black
Friday thing.

There was, in fact, so much mayhem in the U.S. that the hashtag #WalmartFights was trending on Twitter.

The mega-chain was one of a dozen retailers to jump the gun (probably an assault rifle) and kick off its holiday sales frenzy a day early this year, opening on the American Thanksgiving holiday Thursday.

A man was stabbed after pulling a gun in a dispute over a parking space in Virginia. An officer was left with a broken wrist after three separate fights erupted over line-budging in
California. A guy who assaulted another cop got pepper sprayed in a New Jersey store. An Ohio woman was trampled. Several videos of in-store mob scenes were posted, including one in which a woman can be heard screaming “oh my God” during a melee over flat-screen televisions in North Carolina.

And that’s just the Walmarts.

Elsewhere, police shot a shoplifter who tried to drive off with a cop stuck in his car door outside an Illinois Kohl’s. In Las Vegas, a robber shot a man who had just bought a TV. One woman used a stun gun on another as they duked it out in a Philadelphia mall. The website BlackFriday had upped its running tally of shopping-related casualties to seven dead and 90 injured since 2006.
No such nastiness here.

Maybe we’ll get snarlier after B.C. allows liquor sales in grocery stores and we show up for the Black Friday all Rob Forded on President’s Choice tequila, but for now our mob scenes tend to involve a thousand people trying to politely hold the door for each other at the same time.

Our stores did have big crowds on Friday. It might seem strange to see us copycat American holiday shoppers on a day that is not a Canadian holiday (wonder how many people begged off work with the Friday Flu), but for retailers these Black Friday sales are really an act of self-defence. They have to offer deep discounts to plug the drain of Canadians going south.

It creates a moral dilemma for shoppers, who must decide at what point purchasing power outweighs patriotism. Strange how we work ourselves into a lather over raw log exports,
demanding that the government stop allowing jobs to be shipped abroad, yet remain mum when it’s our own consumer choices that put our neighbours out of work and bleed the local economy.

Of course, the moral dilemmas can be avoided when the local merchants offer screaming deals of their own, ones that allow us to save money without having to bring a passport or brush up on our close-combat skills.

As for those who wrinkle their noses at the Black Friday frenzy, they can still shop in the traditional Canadian manner, desperately buying iTunes cards from 7-Eleven after work on Christmas Eve.

Jack Knox, Kamloops born and raised, writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.

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