November 30, 2009

Sunrise Target

I heard the first chime of the alarm and stumbled in the dark of my in-law’s house to the room next door. I shook my peacefully slumbering daughter. “Were you serious about this? We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

Did you ever plan something that seemed like a good/fun/adventurous idea at the time, then once you were in it, realized “Never again!”

At 5:00 a.m., the day after Thanksgiving, I (along with my husband, daughter and niece) entered our first—and probably last—Black Friday experience.

It was my daughter's idea to go in the first place. All the family gathered at my in-laws’ thought she was crazy, but I agreed to join her, as did her cousin and surprisingly my husband as well. We scoured the circulars and picked Target as our first stop. I’m not a morning person and not much of a shopper, but I do love Tar-jhay. Plus, they advertised a keyboard I’d had my eye on for my daughter at 50% off. I figured it’d be fun.

Well…it was lots of things. Fun wasn’t one of them.

Observation #1: Early bird gets the plasma screen. Only the amateurs show up at 5:30 a.m. when the doors open at 5:00 (As we learned later, the real pros started lining up at 2 a.m.) By the time we arrived, the parking lot was completely full. People were already leaving the store, carts overflowing with big ticket items. The place radiated an aura of survival of the fittest.

Observation #2: Be prepared to be completely overwhelmed. I have never seen so many people in a store for any reason. Like ruthless hunters, thousands upon thousands of shoppers filled the aisles, sights laser-focused on prized door-buster kills. The check out line snaked through the ENTIRE store—through housewares…grocery…electronics… boys’…shoes…women’s…and lingerie. I started counting, but eventually gave up at about 250. I guess over 750 people waited in line!

Observation #3: Don’t give up too quickly. I struggled to navigate the aisles as the crush of people, carts and stuff impeded my progress. I finally made it to the music department in search of the keyboard. A shelf tag announced I’d found the right place. A bare spot told me I was too late. Feeling defeated and claustrophobic, I said aloud, “I’ve gotta get out of here!” Problem was I’d lost my family almost as soon as we entered the store.

Eventually I found my daughter and niece. They looked as shell shocked as I felt. As we formulated our exit strategy, my phone rang. “I found the keyboard and am waiting in line,” my husband announced.

“Where’d you find it,” I asked.

“In the boys department. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? “Can you find me a cart? It’s getting really heavy.”

Observation #4: Be patient and pay it forward. With a deluge of bargain hunters descending upon limited low-price merchandise, the tension was palpable. I sensed we were one cut in line or one snatched item away from total pandemonium. The scene teetered precariously between control and chaos. Thankfully, Target shoppers chose “goodwill toward men” over “win at all costs.” Case in point, while I searched in vain for a cart to bring to my husband, a woman noticed him struggling with the massive box and gave him a cart she’d found sitting empty. Later, he offered to buy her a coffee at Starbucks.

Thankfully the Target staff tipped the balance toward civility by providing excellent crowd control. Rumor had it shoppers didn’t fare so well at the nearby Walmart where reportedly punches were traded and an ambulance was called to the scene!

Observation #5: Make a list. Black Friday is not a time for casual browsing. As soon as I entered the frenetic scene in the store, my brain froze. Besides the keyboard, I couldn’t remember a single thing listed in the sale circular or anything I wanted to buy for Christmas. As I walked around dazed and confused, I noticed several battle-hardened Black Friday vets armed with detailed procurement lists working with focused efficiency.

Observation #6: Recession? What recession? I’m not passing judgment (since I was among the participants) but we are a materialistic bunch…and suckers for a deal—especially on electronics. I have never witnessed such conspicuous consumption in one place at one time. I don’t care what the analysts say, consumer spending is alive and well in America.

Dan's view of the line....after standing in it for about 40 minutes.
With two more turns to go, we're down to the home stretch.

In the end I did Black Friday, got a few good buys and survived to tell about it. But the whole experience left me feeling agitated, stressed…and tired. Do I feel like I got a jump start on Christmas? Not really. Would I do it again? Probably not. I love a bargain as much as the next person, but I’m left scratching my head, asking “Why?” Why lose sleep? Why waste hours waiting in line? Why enter the crush of humanity. And why do we need so much of this stuff in the first place?

I wonder what sociologists make of Black Friday. Or Dave Ramsey. Or Jesus.


Kelly Combs said...

Great post! Like you, I've done it once, and will not likely do it again. My goal annual is to finish the majority of my Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving. I usually don't make it, but I have at least a big enough dent in my shopping, that I'm not stressed out, and shop while the kids are at school (and many people are at work.)

Shopping on Christmas eve? You couldn't PAY ME MONEY to do it. I can't stand the crowds either.

Loved your viewpoint.

Terri Tiffany said...

You are brave! We went out at 9am and picked Kohl's first just to look. Even then, nothing was worth it to stand in line at that time!
Will never do it early as we did years ago. But once is an experience, isn't it?

Sassy Granny ... said...

It's like preparing for scuba diving, or taking care of 48 children in the nursery at church with only 3 other helpers, or ....

I actually enjoy Black Friday (didn't go this year, though) so long as I don't need anything. I tell hubby: "It's not about the kill; it's about the hunt". The guys get that.

So I make it an adventure centered on how to make my coffee last through long lines.

Loved your observations!


Dan said...

Somewhere, somebody in America got a huge deal at 5:00 a.m. that could not have been replicated at 6:00 or 7:00 or 10:00...or, three days later at 3:00 in the afternoon. But, I have a sneaking suspicion there are darned few of those stories out there.
The real attraction (and I use that term VERY lightly) of early bird Black Friday shopping I think is the shared misery of the experience. Picture a team of mountaineers braving oxygen deprivation and risking lost, frostbitten digits to attempt (and statistically, most likely fail to summit) Mount Everest. Hunters shivering silently together in a cold, wet duck blind before sunrise waiting for the first clutch of Canadian Geese - which may never appear. Detroit Lions fans spending $100 per ticket and $8 per beer to watch their hometown team almost definitely lose again.
Did the average Black Friday shopper bag his or her quarry this year? Maybe. Did they return home cold, tired and miserable? Yep. Did they wonder why they bothered, and swear to never do it again? Many did. Will they venture forth again on Friday, November 26, 2010? As sure as the sun rises two hours after the doors open, they certainly will.
The Regans, however will be in bed. Probably.

Cheryl Barker said...

Black Friday hours seem to get crazier each year, don't they? Some places are even open on Thanksgiving now. My sister bought a Christmas tree on Thanksgiving afternoon, and I heard of others participating in midnight shopping. The deals just aren't worth it to me, I guess... Good luck for making it out of Target alive! :)

Peggy said...

Dear Kelli...
Glad you have such a terrific Thanksgiving and ahhhh, black Friday!!
I did that once, a long , long time ago and have never done it again. I now shop online with Heffer International and some other fantastic sites. It's not the present, but the thought and I feel I need to do my part to help others.
I'm really glad you finally shared in the experience, we all should do a Black Friday once.
Good post with great insites, including Dan's.
Blessings and Love....Peggy

Carmen said...

Great observations! We don't have Black Friday, and I avoid huge crowds at all cost. Last year we gave my son some money, and he waited in the line up at Future Shop (Best Buy) even before the wee hours of the morning until opening time. It's a young mans sport if you ask me! Kudos to you and your family for braving the crowds!

Laura said...

Oh. You ARE brave! I didn't make it out on Black regrets. But I love the lessons you share with us, Kelli! Happy Advent to you!

Runner Mom said...

You crack me up!! Have you read Elaine's post(Peace for the Journey)? Y'all are 2 peas in a pod! But, Kelly, I really loved Dan's comments! He's quite the trooper! Craig would NEVER get out of bed to hit the sales!!!

Love ya!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

6th year of doing this... I ALWAYS MAKE A LIST! We do it for fun, really. But not sure we'll be at it at 4:30 AM next year. Too much stress this year for sure.

Loved reading this through a different set of lenses.


Sue J. said...

Last year, when we were having Thanksgiving at my sister's, we joked about waking up to go to Kohl's. Well, at 4:30 a.m. on Black Friday, my youngest woke us up having to go to the bathroom! I was feeling so woozy, the thought of shopping was making me ill!! I slept in until 8...

Crowds make me run. Even Cyber Monday E-mails keep me away from buying. I try to be cost-conscious, but not at ANY cost!

You did live to write about it...thanks for doing that for all of us who wouldn't.

Analisa said...


I used to work retail and I was the one waiting on the Black Friday folks, but I don't think it had a name back then and is much worse now. Also I find Christmas Eve to be just as mind blowing and never go to the store on those days. Here on the East coast snow will do that in a grocery store.
The tips if I should ever change my mind about it are excellent. A friend here went to Target around 2pm and said it was lovely. Most folks were gone, the parking lot had plenty of spaces and she was able to get great bargains. If you are not looking for the circular sale items that is probably a great time to go.

Happy shopping everyone!