Black Friday. Getting Blacker?
Let me start by saying that in spite of my hub's title, there is nothing racist about what I'm writing. The term "Black Friday" has been used in different situations with different meanings, including financial meltdowns. A movie was released with that title also. There were other references to it also, but most of us know it best by its current context, the first day of the holiday shopping season. Now I'm not real big on shopping, myself, but my wife is, and we decided to go out this year because there were a few deals we wanted to take advantage of. I had another reason too, because I had been planning on getting her a notebook computer for Christmas, and a number of places were offering some at very good prices. I was doubly obligated since she had already got my gift, a new Amazon Kindle. Otherwise I would have been more reluctant to push out.
Now truthfully, you probably don't need another Black Friday story. I'm sure you already have plenty of your own, and if not, they certainly abound on the web. Accounts of mob conditions, people being trampled, and this year, reports of a man stabbed and a woman arrested for a threat involving a gun. While attention getting, these kinds of things aren't widespread, and I didn't see anything like that this year nor any other. But I've learned from previous years that it's a good opportunity to watch people. Most at their best, but obviously some at their worst. One of the reasons to go might be to see what they will do.
Scene at a Target Black Friday Sale
Small Town Shopping
The location we chose this year was the Wal-Mart store in Lebanon, Oregon. Overall, the people on the West Coast aren't real impressed with nor very supportive of Wal-mart. in some areas of the country, every town with more than a few thousand people have one. Larger cities may have several, and a couple of Sam's Clubs as well. For example, the state of Kansas has sixty, Missouri and Ohio over a hundred each. But Oregon is different. There, Wal-mart has only established itself in a little over two dozen locations. So the situation in Lebanon means that its store is the only one in a rather large trade area. Because of this, customers normally drive up to thirty miles to shop for day to day needs, and for Black Friday sales it's even worse.
Ask any veteran Black Friday shopper and they'll tell you, you have to plan. My wife has a willing accomplice in our son-in-law. He is a devoted husband and father, and is willing to throw every effort into making the day successful. He started by getting a newspaper on Thanksgiving day in order to see the ads. Now it's true, a lot of stores released their ads early on the Internet, but they like to have printed copies when they go into the store. An hour or so of scanning these ads on Thursday gave them a foundation for the game plan.
Now most of what you hear about Black Friday, the mobs, trampling, and so forth have to do with the store opening early in the morning. This year, shoppers at Best Buy were camping on the sidewalk a week before so they could be the first in the door. Wally sort of short-circuited that idea by keeping their super-centers open twenty-four hours. That way, instead of lining up outside the front doors, people just cluster up around the things they want to buy. That was a little awkward in Lebanon, since some items went on sale at midnight, while the more desirable items in electronics didn't become available until five AM. It most likely created a few problems for Wal-mart staff and some frustration among the customers.
My wife had decided to purchase some new bed sheets. They weren't gifts. She wanted some extra sets for us just because you can never have too many, or so I gathered. She wanted them for the simple reason that quality plus price equals bargain, so that was our first stop. Like most locations featuring sale items, this display had a number of people hanging around. A sign posted indicated the sheets couldn't be sold before the actual sale time, but I didn't think that meant we couldn't pick them out. We took a couple of sets and put them in our cart. The customers watching said the staff might make us put them back but nobody did. Just to be safe, though, I took the cart over to the nearly empty grocery side, and hid near the bananas, while she and our son-in-law continued to scope out the other things.
As the sale time approached, I went back toward the crowd and met her and son-in-law Mike a few minutes early. By that point, no one cared about the sale time, and they unloaded their armloads of stuff into the cart. She wanted to leave then, but I still hadn't got her the notebook, so I headed back to electronics to see what I could make happen. She told me that would be a mistake because it was "pretty crowded" back there, but I figured leaving right then would mean I had stayed up past midnight for no good reason. So I dozed my way through the masses of buying public until I reached the electronics department.
Crowded turned out to be a gross understatement. Disarray would be a better term, since not only was the department jammed to full capacity, but everyone wanted to be helped at the same time. In truth, the largest retailer in the world probably didn't plan real well for what was going on there. Customers outnumbered the employees a hundred or so to one. The line at the registers was so backed up I couldn't tell where to go to get to the end of it. In addition, many items, such as electronic games were not only being offered at sale prices, but were also locked up. And no one seemed to know who had the key. I had a plan, however, so I smugly observed everything with a detached amusement.
Earlier in the week, the online ads said Wal-mart would offer an emachine laptop for a little less that two hundred dollars. Sounds pretty good doesn't it. But as anyone who has jumped on a really good deal knows, with Wally, these kinds of things are limited in quantity. It's a solid guarantee that supply won't meet demand in most cases. And even though it was a good deal, and a nice looking computer, she really wanted a notebook. Something smaller, easier to handle. So unlike a lot of the people that night, I wasn't looking for the advertised deal. I had already moved to plan B.
This is the one I was really after.
My Own Planning
The day before Thanksgiving, I had stopped at Wal-mart to check the different laptops they had. When I saw the notebook as pictured above, I knew it was what I needed to buy. The price on it was around two hundred and fifty dollars, so it was a bit more than the emachines were advertised at, but since it was actually a notebook, I decided it was worth it. I didn't tell anyone about this yet. Then when perusing the printed ads, I noticed Radio Shack was offering the same model at an astounding one hundred, seventy-nine dollars. Enough said! Decision made. Radio Shack it was. Then in small print at the bottom of the ad, were the words, "minimum one" at each store. That probably meant there might not be a real good chance of getting it if our local store only one to sell. Of course the ad said "minimum" so it might have two. Or possibly even three, but I still didn't trust it. So later that day, we casually strolled into Wally World to see how they were doing in getting their sale stuff out. In the electronics department, we stopped and looked at the notebook. Wife was please with it, and so breaking my silence, I asked a sales clerk if they had anything other than the model on display. He scanned the label with a portable scanner and said they had two more in stock. He also said the store policy was to price match local competitors on identical merchandise. I loved how things were falling into place.
Wal-mart-Many Are Open Twenty-Four Hours
Back to chaos
Fast forward now, back to the electronics department, a few minutes after midnight. Since the video games and small electronics, including all laptop computers were locked up, and nobody knew who had the key, I became one of fifty or so people needing someone to locate my desired purchase. Anyone wearing a Wal-mart identification had a following that any celebrity would envy. After a few minutes, an employee from the loading dock (at least that's what his tag said) came through the area. My wife who had caught up with me at that point managed to get his attention and relayed our issue. He said we would need to talk to a manager, so she asked if he knew where we could find one. About that same time an assistant manager sporting the name "Jazz" came through. He was a rather large fellow, and not surprisingly, he was being bombarded with questions. We waited our turn and then told him about our dilemma. He actually seemed pleased to be presented with something as simple as this, and said he would find the computer. Victory was within reach. Just then someone at the register was needing an over ride code or something, and it was at that point I realized the check out line had not moved in over five minutes. The same customer had been there pulling bath towels and who knows what else out of his cart while the clerks tried to get it all to ring up correctly. Jazz got diverted to take care of that, and then took off. Not knowing what was happening, Mike followed him until he entered the back store room.
A few tense minutes later, Jazz emerged from the store room carrying a carton and came back to the electronics department. There he handed the carton, containing an Xbox to a customer we hadn't even seen him speak to. So naturally, we asked him about the notebook, and he said something like "Oh yeah." Then he told us he had checked while in the back room and they didn't have any. We reminded him that earlier in the day the inventory showed two, and he agreed. Then he said he had checked both places where they should have been and found nothing. He said they probably had them but they just weren't on site. I'm not real sure what he meant by that.
Shoppers Waiting at an Undisclosed Location
By this time it was probably near or after one AM. Mr. Towel Buyer had completed his purchase and was probably on his way to tie up somebody else's register. But it was about the same at every checkout in the place. Lines were backed up at most registers a third to halfway across the store. Initially while walking through the clothing department, what I thought were shoppers was actually the end of the line. Main aisles were even worse. It was an additional twenty minutes before we reached the check out, while I numbly considered my options. Plans A and B both crashed within minutes of each other. I was wildly contemplating a two AM drive to the next closest Wal-mart to see if I could buy one there. In fact, while waiting in line, I called on my cell phone to check their inventory, No surprise I guess, there was no answer. Ten rings, twenty, fifty, no answer. My wife who had categorically dismissed the emachine tried another store a little farther away and finally reached someone who said they had two in stock as well. He wasn't willing to hold one because as he said, "nobody's buying that kind of stuff right now."
We went on home and unloaded our stuff. Mike took a couple of his things to their house across the street where his wife and daughter were sound asleep, and then came back. His idea was to be first in line at Radio Shack when they opened at five-thirty, but we didn't know what time we would need to get there. We decided on four-thirty since we had seen at least one other customer at Wal-mart holding the same Radio Shack ad, and looking at the same computer. Minimum of one per store. Couldn't get that thought out of my mind. I set an alarm clock and the coffee pot timer for four AM, and set back on my sofa incliner. Mike took the incliner on the other end, and my wife relaxed in her recliner. She had bought a heated throw at the sale, and was trying it out. Then two hours later, precisely on time, the alarms went off and at four twenty, somewhat zombified, we got into the car and made way to Radio Shack.
We drove through the parking lot at Lebanon Plaza, where the Radio Shack is located, and noted one lone vehicle parked in front of the store. The driver was sitting inside when we parked, and as no line had formed, we got out and stood next to the door. While we were getting out, another man exited a car parked around the side, and I while I was considering this unforeseen threat he unlocked the door with a key, walked inside, and relocked it. That left us standing outside alone. Fortunately, it wasn't as cold as it might have been, but we were still far from being comfortable. The other guy stayed in his vehicle, and only got out and joined us when a third car parked next to him. Over the course of the hour we stood outside, a line of probably forty people gathered there. A lady in line about fourth behind us was talking and stated she was interested in the notebook computer. I hoped there would be more than one. Her story was that she had gone to Wal-mart in time for the five o'clock sale, only to find that the sales people had given tickets to potential buyers before she arrived. The tickets were then turned in for wristbands (for reasons known only to Wal-mart), and the wristband holders were allowed to purchase the item(s) they wanted. All of that had transpired at two AM, about the time we had arrived at home earlier. She was a little irritated.
We watched through the windows in the darkened store as several workers moved around changing signs and working on displays. Then at five-thirty, a young man approached the door and opened it as the lights came on. He was holding the door for everyone, but Mike, stepping inside, told him we wanted a notebook computer. He let go the door and escorted us directly to the counter telling a lady at the register we wanted "the notebook" She reached beneath the counter and pulled out a small carton, and after trying to sell me a two year warranty for an additional sixty-five dollars, rang up my purchase. I then asked her how many they had and she said, "One. You are the lucky customer." As I turned away, I spotted the lady who had been at the Wal-mart electronics department trying to get the same deal, and I knew she would once again be disappointed. Hard to understand how a person can feel good and bad at the same time.
Black Friday is called such in the retail world, because it for many companies represents the point during the year where they become profitable. But the last few years, I've noticed too few really good deals to go around. It's no secret that retailers, both large and small, offer really good prices on a limited quantity of items in hopes of attracting customers who will then buy something else when the super deals are gone. Ads normally state something to the effect of "while quantities last" or "limited to quantities on hand." But this year somehow seemed different. People seemed a little more desperate to find the good deals, and a little more disappointed when the stores ran out. The economy may be improving, but most people would probably agree it has a long way to go. As for myself, plan C worked, and I'm glad I didn't have to go to plan D. But I still wonder if Black Friday is getting blacker for some.