COMMENT:

Happy Cyber Monday everyone.

Already? I know, most of us haven't even taken down our Black Friday decorations yet.

But hang in there. It's important to reflect on the deeper meaning of consumerism at this time of year.

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Let's embrace the true spirit of the late November shopping fest that's fast becoming a cultural festival of consumer greed.

We're humans, we love things — bright, shiny, new things that come in cardboard boxes, polystyrene packaging and preferably with a 30-40 per cent discount.

It's a special time of year, arguably the most honest of seasonal celebrations.

Other festivals may purport to have religious or historic significance but are inevitably become swamped by over-indulgence of some kind or another: presents, chocolate, candy, sparkly explosions.

Black Friday and its online shopping companion Cyber Monday are unashamedly about you — getting what you want.

And what you want is a half-price waffle maker or 40 per cent off all sportswear or buy one get one free beach towels.

That's what life's about right? The deep sense of warmth and satisfaction that only a really good bargain can bring.

Okay, at this point some readers may detect a hint of sarcasm creeping into the column.

I'm not trying to be a retail Grinch but the notion of Black Friday and Cyber Monday as calendar events to sit beside Mothers Day or Guy Fawkes (if not quite Christmas or Easter yet) seems faintly absurd to me.

If we continue to follow American trends — and all the statistics suggest we are— then that's where we'll end up.

New Zealanders spent $219 million on Black Friday last year, up 32.8 per cent from the Friday a week earlier, according to Paymark.

Around 35 per cent of Kiwis said they planned to buy something on Black Friday this year according to a survey by website PriceSpy.

In the US, Black Friday retail sales were worth US$7.9 billion last year, an increase of nearly 18 per cent on the year before.

If you follow the US media, the hype starts earlier every year, with an intense focus going on retail stocks and consumer spending data.

By the time the day arrives you could be forgiven for thinking you're not just buying a half-price waffle maker — you're doing your patriotic duty to support the economy.

The celebratory feel in the US is enhanced by the fact that the retail festival is tacked onto Thanksgiving Thursday — the start of long weekend for many Americans (those that don't work in retail at least).

The idea that the Friday after Thanksgiving Thursday was a special day for shopping dates back to the 1930s, but it didn't get dubbed Black Friday until 1961.

The "Black" part is believed to refer to the fact it is only from this point in the year that retailers move into profit — out of the red and into the black.

However, its first recorded usage was by New York police, who didn't particularly enjoy the crowds and chaos the day brought to the streets.

These days it's a less about department store riots and more about joylessly clicking on the online deals that complex algorithms have selected for you based on your Facebook likes.

I'm not arguing that shopping can't be a pleasure or even a hobby. I love shopping for records and books. But for me the joy is in the browsing.

That doesn't seem to be what Black Friday and Cyber Monday are about.

They are about getting a bargain, which rewards the shopper with something more like the addictive hit of a gambling win.

There's science to that.

Psychological studies show that getting a good bargain makes us feel like we've outsmarted someone — that we've achieved some kind of personal triumph.

Never mind that we may have been manipulated into buying something we didn't actually need in the first place.

And it gets worse.

A 2013 study by psychologists Leonard Lee and Claire Tsai showed that we're actually likely to get less enjoyment from goods we've purchased at a large discount.

Put simply we don't value them as much. We don't focus as much attention on them and therefore we experience lower levels of joy.

Most of us can remember how much we loved some overpriced piece of teenage nonsense that we were forced to scrimp and save for.

That our parents couldn't understand why we would waste good money on it only made it all the sweeter.

So, ironically, these two annual days of retail madness may actually be undermining the true spirit of shopping.

Retail is a tough game and the major players have no choice but to get on board with the big discounts.

Smart local operators — the ones with their focus on the long term — will know that it's a deeper connection that sustains them through the rest of the year.

They will be focused on the shopping experience itself, the pleasure of being instore.

We live in a world of plenty, where most things are only a click or two away.

Local retailers can't win a cut-price show down with likes of Amazon or Alibaba.

They should be careful because that's exactly where these annual celebrations of the mega-deal are leading them.