Is E-commerce Immune to the Ghost Month?

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As much as we’re ashamed to admit it, superstitions govern our daily lives. While we’ve discarded silly notions of meeting the right prince or princess to live our “happily ever afters,” or capturing the elusive unicorn to receive unlimited good luck, we still knock on wood or any other nearby surface three times after uttering a statement we wouldn’t like to come true. 

Highly dependent on deep-rooted traditions from our upbringing, these beliefs – in the form of cautionary tales passed on to us when we were young – stick to our minds well into adulthood. We continue to believe walking under a ladder is bound to bring bad luck, so we avoid it while also narrowly escaping a harmless black cat crossing our alternate path. 

In the Philippines, many revelers wear outfits with polka dots to welcome the incoming new year with good luck (and hopefully lots of coins or money, as the circles represent). Friday the 13th is reserved for just traveling to work and going back home, with social plans pushed back to the 12th or forward to the 14th. We wear our lucky shirts during milestone events such as job interviews or competitions. 

Even athletes aren’t exempt, wearing their own lucky trinkets on their necks or carrying them inside their pockets during a crucial sports event. A quick glance at today’s horoscope wouldn’t hurt, and instead may even be beneficial. To this day, even the most advanced and sophisticated buildings and condominiums do not have a 13th floor (or a 4th floor, for businessmen living in China).

The lengths ordinary people like you and me are willing to go to just to avoid what’s labeled as unlucky (or to attract good luck by carrying lucky charms) can be laughable at times, but we continue to be cautious anyways. After all, with so many beliefs across different cultures, who’s to say which is real and which isn’t?

Business Superstitions

Even businesses believe in superstitions that affect work and finances. Feng Shui, an ancient Chinese art, is practiced in offices all over Asia. “Wind” and “water” are translated into the Chinese words “feng” and “shui” respectively, and feng shui means “the way of wind and water.” As a philosophy, feng shui is the practice of arranging pieces in a particular way inside living spaces, such as homes and offices, to create balance and harmony with the natural world. Doing so ensures good health, peace, and prosperity within these areas.

While feng shui has its roots in ancient Taoism, it often merits more consideration when businesses put up their stores and build their office spaces. According to Taoist tradition, everything is made up of these five elements: water, wood, fire, metal, and earth. Chi, also known as qi – the life force that inhabits all things – has both positive and negative elements. Rearranging and positioning furniture in relation to doors and windows leads to the unhampered flow of natural energy and positive chi, which in turn leads to good luck for users of that office space. Even in modern times, Asians who manage businesses incorporate feng shui in their decision-making, even spending money to hire consultants.

Related to feng shui, superstitions about locations also permeate the business industry. From where I sit while writing this article, I am currently facing the ThugLife Barber Shop. Some years back, it was a store for designer shoes and sneakers. Prior to that, sliders were sold in that same spot under the TAB (Take a Burger) restaurant. Even before that, it was a tattoo parlor. Four different establishments took up that space in a span of just 9 years! If prospective business owners scouting for a location discover that a certain area has had such a huge business turnover, they’re bound to believe that it was cursed! There are countless logical reasons why businesses don’t work out, and in this case, some of the reasons could even be validated (lack of foot traffic, for example), but it’s easier and certainly more dramatic to believe that a curse has been kicking out these businesses.

Sadly, even colors aren’t spared from superstitious beliefs. Most decisions surrounding color are made based from a design perspective, with certain emotions evoked depending on the color a designer or owner chooses. If your business revolves around food, color psychologists recommend using a lot of warm colors like yellow and orange, but other businesses that put a premium on practicality and timelessness may choose a neutral color like gray. However, the choice not to use certain colors because of what they might unintentionally convey can also be due to superstitions.

Culture also plays a huge role as specific colors are bringers of bad luck in some countries, while those exact same colors supposedly offer good luck in others. Black is, for many cultures, supposedly an unlucky color, but not all might see it that way. Even politics can interfere with business logo decisions, especially with specific colors closely tied to certain politicians. All these considerations greatly limit the potential of creative thought.

What is the Ghost Month?

One particular superstitious belief focuses greatly on businesses. While not as popular as Halloween or the Christmas season, the ghost month has its share of staunch believers. The very first day of the 7th lunar month, oftentimes August in the Julian or solar calendar, marks the beginning of the ghost month, when the gates of the underworld open and let loose a horde of ghosts to roam our world. Some of these ghosts are believed to be the dead who were forgotten by the living. The most vulnerable in our society, such as our seniors, children, and those who are weak and sick, are advised to stay indoors to avoid getting attacked by these spirits.

Businesses are especially at risk of receiving bad luck during this period. A noticeable slowdown in both business and financial activities often occurs during August. To further illustrate what differentiates this month from all the others, there is a comprehensive list of what business owners should NOT do during the ghost month:

  • Do not travel.
  • Do not go outdoors.
  • Do not sign contracts.
  • Do not start a new job.
  • Do not open a new business.
  • Do not play the stock market.
  • Do not make any investments.
  • Do not move business addresses.
  • Do not start any office renovations.
  • Do not go on any long business trips.

That’s a long list for such a short period of time. Interestingly enough, discouraging business owners from being active in the stock market during the ghost month would actually cause stock prices to drop down. Ironically, it would then be the best time to acquire new stocks. However, would this be enough to break a firm believer’s resolve? It just might be the best time of the year to invest anew.

Caving In

Seasoned movers and shakers in the business industry might be considered risk takers in many ways, but the fear implanted in their younger years could be what makes them risk-averse when it comes to superstitions. Culture and tradition continue to play a huge role in managing these beliefs. Believing no business to be immune to the ghost month, store owners may decide to put their e-commerce stores on hiatus, either completely going on “vacation mode” or still answering questions and processing orders on a limited capacity without implementing new marketing plans or devising initiatives.

While not crawling to a complete standstill, e-commerce stores laying low for the month may also delay the purchasing of new stocks to replenish sold-out items from their suppliers. It may also affect their desire to consider new products or suppliers for the moment. Front-end developers and designers may push back their deadlines for site revamps as well as UI (user interface) improvements and quality of life enhancements.

Finally, customers are also affected and may choose not to make any new purchases for the duration of the ghost month. Multiply that by a number of believers, and sales for that month inevitably plummets.

Pushing Back

To counter the ghost month, believers encourage people to use this time to honor their ancestors by remembering their lives and offering up food and incense for them. The belief is that by doing so, living relatives are able to help pacify spirits trapped in anguish. Together with this honoring, a large feast called the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated to shoo away bad luck and keep the spirits happy.

Another way of pushing back against the ghost month is by making sure that your office is well-lit to repel unwanted visitors. If it’s usually dark and poorly lit, it might attract ghosts. Others suggest precautionary measures, including the use of amulets, charms, stones, candles, and salt. To further pay respects and look after the welfare of those who have passed on, joss paper, treated as real money and believed to carry value in the afterlife, is burned to serve as the ancestor’s payment for spiritual debts.

To Believe or Not to Believe

Superstitions in general and the ghost month, in particular, push all the right buttons and capitalize on our fears. Even if memories of our childhood and the scary stories we heard back then are now just vague and distant echoes of their former selves, gnawing horror and traumatic feelings still linger deep within the corridors of our brain. Any mention can trigger goosebumps, and it may lead us to act or decide differently.

A few would probably just brush aside these beliefs, but some might argue that there isn’t any harm in playing it safe. Would it cost you a lot to toss salt over your shoulder or knock on wood 3 times? Despite conflicting opinions on how to deal with superstitious beliefs, a scientific study conducted some years back discussed the merits of superstition as a performance boost. Activating lucky charms or phrases prior to an activity results in a boost of confidence and in turn, this improves performance. Not a bad by-product even if the superstition, per se, isn’t the direct cause of warding off bad luck.

Anxiety is also eased when one believes in the power of good luck, and feels in control of one’s own fate simply by clutching a rabbit’s foot. Just keep in mind that superstitions are deeply rooted in folklore and culture, which varies from country to country. What may be considered bad luck in one place may be viewed differently in another. Ultimately, no matter what you end up choosing to believe, don’t forget to back your decisions with empirical evidence. While luck might play a part in your business success, hard work and strong research will still make up the bulk of your destiny.

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