It’s called chumming the water. Marine biologists drop bloody, ragged fish meat into shark-infested waters. Then, on cue, the sleek beasts emerge from the shadowy sea and enter a tail-whipping, teeth-baring feeding frenzy.

Land sharks, like us, have something similar. It is called “Black Friday.”

The tongue-in-cheek name of the post-Thanksgiving shopping day, which traditionally marks when merchants hit the “black,” now has new meaning. A Wal-mart clerk in New York was killed by stampeding shoppers on Black Friday; 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour had been managing the store’s early-morning “blitz” line.

It reads like a scene from a Christmas tragedy – crazy shoppers rolling over a clerk like a speed bump on the road to bargains. There’s nothing funny about it. While Damour’s death was an isolated incident, the conditions that caused it were present across the country. It could have happened anywhere.

The mob can’t be blamed, the same way sharks can’t be blamed for responding to conditions created to incite a specific reaction. Consumers are prepped for Black Friday. The question should be whether it’s worth it.

It doesn’t seem so. While one death is an ignorable statistical outlier, numbers that should justify the Black Friday frenzy – profits and sales projections – do not.

Shoppers spent 7 percent more this Black Friday weekend than last, says the National Retail Federation. Yet this was more than matched by deep pricing cuts by stores, some up to 70 percent, which shrunk profits.

Some analysts equated Black Friday to “throwing a party, hoping anybody will show up,” according to The New York Times of Nov. 30. In another vein, observers repeated a four-word-descriptor about the tradition: “it’s just another day.” Few experts think the gloomy outlook for holiday shopping will perk up, due to the brief fiscal sugar rush that Black Friday provides.

A pre-dawn shopping assault on the Friday after Thanksgiving is not a holiday tradition, per se, but brilliant marketing to kick start holiday spending. Yet the profits it generates are small, and bottom-line results for retailers’ coffers are not considered indicative of overall consumer sentiment.

In other words, Black Friday makes next-to-nothing and proves next-to-nothing. Given all this, it appears frenzied Black Friday shopping might also be worth next-to-nothing, too.


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