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The Logistics of Black Friday

Black Friday for me can be summed up as many things are, with a bit from a Seinfeld episode – “Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way. ..” For you Seinfeld fans out there, you will know exactly where this quote comes from. For those of you who are not…well you are missing out quite frankly.

The words immortalized by Frank Costanza on the famous Seinfeld episode, “The Strike”, paint a picture of the often ugly reality that the Christmas shopping season has become. Although he goes to the extreme of creating a new holiday called Festivus – (and for those who don’t know what I am talking about you can check it out on YouTube), most of us have to just deal with the madness.

As a child, I can recall the gruesome stories that would appear in the news regarding Black Friday shopping brawls. From the Cabbage Patch Kid to Teddy Ruxpin to Xbox 360—we have all waited in 2 hour lines only to discover that inventory had depleted or the sale had expired. Of course, I could never quite understand why people would break out in stampede, viciously attack one another, and turn against law enforcement all in the desperate attempt to capture great deals on Black Friday. It is not just the low prices and fabulous bargains that are hunted for on this day of retail mania, it’s the competitiveness that possesses each shopper on this day that turns an ordinary sale into a contact sport.

Today, I am a working professional with a background in logistics and Black Friday has new meaning to me. It is the day in which I am rooting for retail stores both big and small to post large numbers in sales. It is through much hard work and strategic planning that product arrives into distribution centers and stores on time and in perfect order. The dancing Elmo doll that is in your shopping cart was once just a forecasted number. Marketing professionals and graphic designers worked closely with engineers to create a sketch for their prototype of Elmo. Once the design was approved, sourcing agents and buyers worked with suppliers at factories (most of them overseas) to create what eventually would be the dancing Elmo you now have in your cart ready for check out.

It is no doubt the team that handles the works of art we call “logistics” should be competent and diligent in moving it from its place of origin to its final destination. Each shipment that is entrusted to a logistics provider is the result of many months of planning. This includes many hours of collaboration, lengthy negotiations on pricing, and months of market research. In fact, by the time Black Friday rolls around at the end of the year, many supply chain managers are finally letting out a sigh of relief! Below is a high level example of the supply chain life cycle of a common retail product.

As Black Friday has evolved through the years, so has the supply chain that supports it. Warehouse management, optimized distribution networks, and supply chain planning have all made it possible to keep shelves well stocked and reduce the need for costly storage of inventory. With a perfect execution of supply chain and logistics planning, shoppers should not be forced to result to physical violence. After the tragic events of past years, stores have really made a push toward safety, extended hours, and added security. This year seemed quieter than the norm in our neck of the woods, but there will always be those eccentric stories that we will pass down to the next generation of shoppers.  Despite the hype and hysteria, Black Friday is an important day to the U.S. economy. It is a day that many of us proudly shop; be it online or in stores, in big department stores or a locally owned boutique. It is important to recognize this day for its historical and cultural purpose, but just bear in mind that as with any physical activity, good sportsmanship counts.

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