My Black Friday odyssey

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I awoke with a start at 2:50 a.m.

I lay awake in the darkness of my quiet home acutely aware of a vow I’d made yesterday over Thanksgiving dinner to experience Black Friday first-hand — not just vicariously through breathless media reporting, but in person with the shoppers and retailers in hopes of understanding why.

Here is my story.

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3:45 a.m.: I’m standing in front of Best Buy marveling at the throng that has gathered in the freezing weather. By now I’ve consumed a large cup of coffee and listened to the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same in the comfort of my car, wondering if I look as creepy as the other middle-aged men sitting alone in their cars in the dark. A woman in an SUV swaddles a toddler in her arms. In front of a deserted Old Navy across the parketing lot, some kids amuse themselves by ramming a shopping cart into the wall. Either they are out way past curfew or their parents are in line at Best Buy and just don’t care.

4:00 a.m.: just made it to Kohl’s in time for the doors to open and the crowd to descend like zombies from Dawn of the Dead. A woman walking in front of me notices me trying to take (really bad) photos of the scene with my digital camera and says, “Oh that’s funny. I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” Some teen-ager shouts, “Hey, look at that guy taking pictures!” like I’m just one more footnote to their shopping day (which of course I am).

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4:00 a.m.: Kohl’s check-out clerks brace for the onslaught.

4:10 a.m.: Kohl’s is hopping. Chipper peeps with Kohl’s badges serve coffee, hold open the front doors (yes, for all of us in the lengthy line), and give us a friendly “Good morning!” greeting. The check-out clerks are already ringing up purchases. The shopping carts are completely taken. The only way to get one is to stalk the check-out line and hit up a shopper for theirs after they’ve completed their purchase.

4:15 a.m.: heard on the intercom: “Attention associates. Code A3. Your goal today is 210.”

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4:18 a.m.: what a cheerful hoodie!

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4:20 a.m.: I find a nice cardigan for my father in law and decide to get in line . . . only to find that there is no line, per se, but multiple lines snaking around the check-out lanes and throughout the entire store. A Kohl’s peep sprints over to where two lines appear to be forming in the middle of nowhere. Which line should I stand in? Where do they lead? “This line,” she states, pointing to where I’m standing, “Is spriling out of control. That line,” she continues, pointing to a second crowd mass, “Is for way down there.” (Way down there is the check-out area, seemingly miles away.) Then she quite calmly but firmly organizes the hapless shoppers into one single line. I’m impressed — how come the airlines don’t do this at airport gates?

4:35 a.m.: a chipper managerial type walks up to me and announces, “This is the 30-minute point.” Another managerial type, his hands crossed in front of his chest, eyes my camera and note pad warily.

4:40 a.m.: heard on the intercom: “hand void on seven.” That doesn’t even sound legal.

4:45 a.m.: I’m so busy taking notes that I fail to notice a family of five sail in line in front of me.

4:47 a.m.: I notice a cute little black-haired girl in line — she must be about 4 years old — watching me with my bountiful purchase. I smile at her. She hugs her mother’s leg tightly. Suddenly a Transformers Optimas Prime talking robot stationed next to us starts blurting out something loud and unintelligable. The little girl shrieks and retreats behind her mom.

4:48 a.m.: I realize I’m surrounded by The Big One. Everyone around me in line has either The Big One luggage or The Big One bedding sheets. The Big One must be giving it away on Black Friday.

5:00 a.m.: whilst standing in line, I notice a member of our local church walking past me with his daughter. Our eyes meet. We smile nervously like we just caught each other reading porn.

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5:10 a.m.: things are getting a little messy.

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5:30 a.m.: purchase in hand, I stop by Best Buy to see how things are going. The aftermath of the long line outside looks ugy. Inside, it’s even uglier. Kohl’s, despite the initial confusion about what line I was standing in, was well organized at 4 a.m. Best Buy looks out of control, which is what you’d expect when the store is being run by a bunch of teen-agers at 5:30 a.m.

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5:35 a.m.: yes, somebody camped out here, straddling Best Buy and TJ Maxx terroritory.

5:45 a.m.: I stop by Target feeling like I have to keep up the momentum. The good people at Target hand out free tote bags containing an Archer Farm chewy breakfast oat bar, Bullseye Dog animal crackers, and Archer Farms ground coffee. (I had to mention the brand names — this is the Superhype blog, after all.) All is well and orderly . . . kind of anti-climactic. I walk out with an exciting purchase of Tylenol that I could have easily bought at a more civilized hour. But I wanted to be part of something.

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6:00 a.m.: I just bought a cardigan and a bottle of Tylenol on Black Friday 2007!

Lessons learned:

  • Kohl’s shoppers get pretty nervous when a 44-year-old man standing in front of the lingerie section points a camera at them, especially when he looks very amused.
  • Black Friday, like the goddess Janus, reveals itself with more than one face. Kohl’s is all about efficient crowd management (and done in a friendly way, too). Target feels warm and cuddly with the free tote bags. Best Buy feels like the zoo I expected all along.
  • Black Friday is not a shopping experience — it’s a communal event. I doubt anyone would get up at 4 a.m. and visit Kohl’s all by themselves. I think people just want to experience the ebullient vibe, the experience of shopping together at 4 a.m. so that they can laugh about it later, and, frankly, to see who else has the gumption to be out shopping at this hour.

While in line at Kohl’s, I chatted briefly with one of the friendly Kohl’s peeps. She told me that a long line to get into the store had formed at 3:15 a.m. She asked me, “I wonder why everyone is here when you can probably get all this stuff on the internet?” My reply without hesitation: “It’s fun.”

And, I have to admit — it was.

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6 Responses to My Black Friday odyssey

  1. jmd says:

    Love the Janus reference. Guess Target and Best Buy are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I gotta say, Target should be the poster child for how to market in a cool, friendly way. Hmmmm . . . . . maybe someone like, say, Sears, should be taking notes?

  2. Karen Sutter says:

    Althought Kohl;s is and will be my favorite, this year was the first year I had to stand in line for 1.5 hours to check out. I was disappointed as I had planned to be at other places when they opened. I missed the opening of another store, could not get a cart, and therefore, did not make even half the purchases I had planned on, needless to say that some were already sold out in a matter of minutes. But Yeah for Black Friday, I will continue to go. I can say I started my shopping at 4:30 am and was COMPLETELY done with Christmas shopping by 10:00 am , all in the same day.

  3. heck, Harry Potter, book 7 brought out more -)

  4. sears card says:

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  5. Advance file photo Standing in line for hours in the wee hours of the morning has become an annual ritual for many shoppers. It\’s shopping crunch time again and many Staten Islanders are gearing up for their

  6. Pingback: Walmart Promotes a Kinder Black Friday – and a Possible Future for Retail | Superhype

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