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World War Z on the American consumer

There are hundreds of them. The Lululemon line is an hour long. They’re… just standing there. Abercrombie and Fitch 50% sale. We’ve got to get out of here! Get to the food court, we can refuel there… Panda Express has fallen! I repeat, Panda Express has fallen!  


Black Friday: the eternally ironic Thanksgiving tradition. Be thankful for what you have at dinner and be greedy for more as a midnight snack. The average American consumer spends $473 on Black Friday and over 100 million American’s participate in the “holiday.” Spending in excess and financial disparities have caused wealth gaps to broaden and the average debt to rise significantly. Currently, the average American holds over $100,000 in debt according to USA Today. 


The traditional consumption in the United States around the holidays is at war with itself, and the civilian casualties are astronomical. The American debt problem has never been worse, and it is being contributed to by the very same people who keep the economy operating.  


Spending is incentivized and compulsivity is a symptom. Over 50% of surveyed individuals said, “…they’d bought a sale item only to regret it later, with the average amount spent on a regrettable item coming out at $249.”  


But is the consumer at fault for consuming? 


Well, it’s complicated. An economy cannot function without collective contribution, but when the cost of living is so extreme, affordable indulgence becomes impossible. But that doesn’t stop the Joneses from doing so anyways. And we have to keep up with them. 


There is a form of overconsumption by necessity at this level of late-stage capitalism; from the foods they eat to the clothes they buy; every consumer decision contributes to the health of the economy. A healthy American economy is dictated by the stock market, and without economic investment by the average consumer, there will be fewer “successes” within the market. 


But why is economic prosperity measured by the success of publicly traded companies? Traditional economic prosperity is more a measure of wealth inequality than it is a measure of economic success. “Economic prosperity” is directly combative to public health because as the economy “grows,” more wealth moves from the hands of the consumer into the hands of the producer. 


The “average American” is the most underrepresented group in all media, and they have never been so indebted. 12.4% of Americans lived in poverty in 2022, up 5% from 2021, and the poverty line is incredibly low. At $13,590 for individuals and $23,030 for families of three, the poverty line is much lower than it exists in reality, and individuals cannot afford to exist in the country anymore. Average rent in the United States is $1,372 per month, which exceeds the average monthly income of people on the poverty line – $1,132.50. 


Unsurprisingly, as the debt continues to accumulate, the spending surrounding the holidays does as well. Statista predicts over $950 billion in total holiday retail sales, up from $716.7 billion in 2020.  Many more of these sales are beginning to transition online post-Covid. 


The e-commerce market has spiked during this time, up from $152.85 billion in Q4 2019 to $277.58 billion in 2023. This jump has, again unsurprisingly, directly correlated to Amazon’s corporate success; they are the most profitable e-commerce site, and their stock price has risen 66% since the end of 2019. The company averaged 1,000 items sold per second on Black Friday. 


Their e-commerce empire has expanded through Prime Video, taking over Thursday Night Football with exclusive rights in 2021, but in 2023, they bought the sole rights to the first ever Black Friday NFL game. They paid $100 million for the rights, and, while it underperformed in the ratings, it sends a statement to the retail world. Amazon’s connection to the NFL is a reflection of the shift in consumer buying patterns.  


Much like the system Black Friday resides in, its success is predicated on false promises. A viral video circulated the Internet during Black Friday showing Target’s advertisement of the day’s deals only for the sign to be removed showing the previously discounted price was the same. 


Who do you side with, the comfortable option – lay at home, watch football and buy an Amazon package, or the scary option – trek out to the mall, forage for a parking spot, and stand in Disney-World length lines for overpriced shorts? 


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About the Contributor
Noah Nelson
Noah Nelson, Editor
I’m the Editor for the Lumen. My major is Sports Management and Leadership with an English Writing minor, and I also compete for the Men’s Golf team.
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