Black Friday was consumerism at its worst - and I am ashamed to admit I was a part of it

EDITORIAL USE ONLY Shoppers at the Asda store in Wembley, north west London take advantage of the st

EDITORIAL USE ONLY Shoppers at the Asda store in Wembley, north west London take advantage of the stores Black Friday offers. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday November 28, 2014. Previously a US shopping event that takes place on the day following Thanksgiving, it is the busiest shopping day of the year, often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. This year, Asda is hoping to build on the huge success of last years Black Friday in the UK and is anticipating an even bigger surge of shoppers. Photo credit should read: David Parry/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

The other day I went for a coffee with a friend who is studying for a degree in economics.

She has an exam on the horizon so was poring over her stack of notes and trying to explain to me, in the simplest of terms, some of the basics.

Of course, most of it went right over my head.

But one element – the paradox of choice – struck a chord.

The principle is that although we demand freedom of choice, the more choice we are given the more unhappy we become.

And this is especially true in the consumer world, where shoppers experience more and more angst with every item added to a list they have to pick from.

Most Read

Now, I am an anxious shopper. Especially with Christmas looming.

I have a fairly long list of people to buy for, a budget I try to stick to and a desire to choose the perfect gift for every person.

I can spend a good couple of hours mulling over a range of black cashmere jumpers for my husband – each one as soft and dark as the next – and fail to make a decision.

I can surf the internet for hours, looking for the teddy with the cutest face, the remote control car with the most stunts, the wellies with the thickest soles, only to buy nothing in case there is something better just waiting for me to discover around the corner.

I find it astonishing that some of my friends can have Christmas sewn up by December 1 ? all their gifts neatly wrapped and hidden away ? while I am still debating between a robot and a dinosaur for my son and reading endless product reviews in the hope that other shoppers can help with the conundrum.

But, while I struggle sometimes to make decisions, I am, like so many of us, also a sucker for a bargain.

And so when I found the price of T-Rex was slashed by 50% on Black Friday, that sealed the deal.

Ah, Black Friday. That was a slice of hell on Earth, wasn’t it??

A retail discount extravaganza, imported from America and estimated to be worth more £500m in UK online sales alone, it got its name because traditionally this was the day when businesses’ profits went from red to black.

Although, after watching the undignified sight of our grown countrymen and women sliding across shop floors, sometimes on their faces, in order to grab a discounted television, perhaps we would be excused for believing it was named this way after the number of black eyes that occur as a result.

In some stores Black Friday involved full-on fist fights, biting, pinching, kicking, punching, pushing, swearing. And, finally, police arrived to restore order, which I’m sure we all agree is a superb use of public resources.

It seems that the need to bag a bargain is so great that people will risk life and limb.

And that’s not an exaggeration. In America, so many people have died from Black Friday accidents that there’s a website purporting to keep an accurate count.

Among them is Walter Vance, a 61-year-old pharmacist who collapsed with a heart attack in West Virginia and was stepped over by shoppers intent on bargains.

They also include a man who was stabbed in San Diego last year, an 11-year-old girl who was trampled in Ohio, and a shopper who was shot in Las Vegas while carrying a television he had just bought in a sale.

Now, I perused the Black Friday offerings from the safety of my home computer – but I have to admit that while I cheered myself not only on being decisive but also for saving a whopping £120 on four items, it also left a bad taste in the mouth that I was sucked in by all the hype.

Buying gifts for friends and loved-ones, the sense of preparation and imminent celebration is important.

But there was a certain mindlessness to the chaos of the sales – a fear on missing out, a desperation to buy, buy, buy, which didn’t really feel in keeping with Christmas spirit.

It seemed less about bringing glad tidings and more about ringing up profits.

And this is ironic, considering the sickly content of the festive TV ads this year.

Take the ad using a historical moment from the First World War to make us sob with the delightful idea that “Christmas is for Sharing”.

That store then let us stampede through its aisles and crush people for the sake of a cut-price coffee maker.

And – while I love it – even Monty the penguin upset me with its double-standards.

I mean, you can’t let children fall in love with a cuddly character who longs for girlfriend Mabel and then charge £95 each for toys (just shy of £200 to keep the lovers together).

All in all I am rather ashamed of the way we behave in the lead up to Christmas.

We’ve all seen footage from troubled countries of crowds of people desperately fighting to get to the front after an airdrop of food and provisions – and, for obvious reasons, they could be forgiven their temporary lack of cool.

But, by contrast, Black Friday was a national embarrassment.

Surely nobody needs a television with £80 marked off the retail price so badly that they need to kick, spit and scratch others to get it.

Consumerism is a fact.

And there is nothing wrong with buying presents and treating our loved-ones at this time of the year.

But while we are all scrabbling for a bargain, it might be wise to remember the paradox of choice.

After all, less is usually more – and not just where the price tag is concerned.

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddupRead more from Ellen Widdup here

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter