The first thing to know about me and shopping is that I don’t like crowds. I refuse to go into the mall on a weekend anymore because it’s awkward and frustrating and frenzied. I want to be able to get in, do my browsing, pick up what I want, and get the hell out of dodge easy-peasy-pie. So how on earth did I wind up standing in front of a store at 5am on Black Friday? I know. I can’t believe it either, and I was there to see it.
It all started when I investigated tablet prices. I’d determined this would be a handy little device for me to own, and I wanted one. I researched prices and capabilities and came away oh-so-badly wanting the Microsoft Surface RT. Not the fanciest tablet on the market, but perfect for my needs. Plus it makes clicky sounds- how aurally satisfying! I tallied up numbers and cross-referenced accounts, determining that I could afford it although it was certainly a splurge.
And then it happened. The clerk at Best Buy uttered a loaded sentence, blithely, as though unaware of the magnitude of the information he was dropping:
It might be on sale this weekend, for Black Friday.
He said it with a knowing sort of look that implied insider information. Or not. To be honest I think I made that part up. Regardless, the seed was planted. I found myself actually thinking maybe I’ll try for a Black Friday sale…
Two days later the flyers were out and lo and behold, the Surface RT was slashed from $349 to $199. I quickly weighed whether it was worth $150 to me to not involve myself in the shopping insanity, but truthfully I couldn’t justify throwing that money away. And there was something else creeping in… a growing curiosity to see what this Black Friday business is all about. It’s such a bizarre and totally insane social gathering, too weird to refuse. Of course I had my limits: if the crowds were extreme or aggressive, I was fully prepared to walk away. And since the store in question was only two blocks from my apartment I wouldn’t be wasting time or money just checking it out. So with that, I made the choice to get up at 4am on a workday and do Black Friday.
And from that moment, this song was stuck in my head, which seemed weirdly appropriate (song starts around 1m).
I actually felt pretty excited for Friday morning. There’s that electric feel to any amped up event, plus the enticement of getting my prize for cheap. I have to admit it: Black Friday had really reeled me in on some level.
Alongside my rules about unruly crowds and extreme lines, I decided I would absolutely not show up more than an hour in advance of store opening. For $150 I was willing to wait an hour in the cold, but not two or three. If that’s what it took to get this deal, then that wasn’t any deal to me. I later modified this rule to show up around ten to five, on the reasoning that five was a benchmark and it was possible lots of people would show up then. Since I live so close by, I figured I might as well be in for a pound and add ten minutes to my queuing time to potentially beat out the 5am-ers. This was strategic shopping, after all.
Approaching the block the store is in, I saw people lined up around the corner. That’d be around 200 people lined up down the street already, and my excessive line alarm started pinging. As I turned the corner though I realized those folks were in line for the H&M… there were a grand total of 13 people waiting in line for Best Buy. I took my place as the 14th, rejoicing!
And here’s where my Black Friday experience took a turn I really wasn’t expecting after all the news about chaos and casualties: people were really relaxed and civil! We chatted pleasantly for the duration, and it was good company. When the reporters started showing up to capture Black Friday madness, they were visibly surprised to hear people hadn’t been camping out all night and that we weren’t parodies of consumption-driven ogres or something. Most people had the same attitude I did: it was worth checking out, but none of us were gearing up to fight other shoppers for the deals.
By 6am, store opening time, the line was maybe 100-150 people (hard to tell). The mood was still relaxed and happy. When the doors opened people walked quickly but orderly, no running or pushing that I could see, to the various queues set up in-store for items like laptops, tablets and flatscreens. The Best Buy staff were friendly and efficient, directing and welcoming people. When the credit and debit machines went down on several cash stations they found solutions, and the closest we got to ugly was when I overheard one customer comment “this line doesn’t seem to be moving.” At which point someone passed back the information that the payment systems were glitching, and that was the last comment I heard made about lines. I got my tablet, picked up the keyboard for $49 (another $30 saved), and was on my way by 6:30am. Total time spent: one hour, forty minutes. I’ve spent longer trying to make purchases in the mall on a Saturday.
This whole experience seems to reinforce the stereotype of polite Canadians, but what I think it’s really down to is the specific culture around Black Friday here. Traditionally Boxing Day is the rabid Canadian sales day, and I’ve seen people line up from 11pm on christmas day to get deals the next morning. Canadians are starting to embrace Black Friday, but the only people I saw up at 5am this side of the border were the few serious shoppers who accepted wait times and were quick but orderly. For a get-in-get-out shopper like me, it was actually heaven (and that’s something I never thought I’d say about any sale, let alone this one).
The bigger crowds came later in the day, but the pre-dawn shopping experience was nothing if not quick and easy relative to other busy shopping periods. I won’t say I’m a Black Friday fan exactly, but if you’re already planning a purchase and it happens to be part of the sales I’d say it’s worth trying. In Canada, for the time being at least…