According to the National Retail Federation, 74 million U.S. residents were expected to take part in Black Friday promotions. Another 77 million planned to participate if the deals were worth the cold weather and the crowds.
Well, people were lining up at least three hours ahead of time at stores here in Anchorage. The weather had warmed up to double digits for the first time in days, but it was snowing pretty steadily — and let’s face it, standing in one spot for hours in 15-degree weather is still kinda chilly.
Some people will do anything to get a Kinect with four games for $99.
Or a $6 T-shirt, a $29.99 copy of “Batman: Arkham City” or any of the tons of other specials advertised in the fattest newspaper of the year. A friend and I were part of the madding crowd, leaving her house at a little after midnight. She’d driven past Target at about 9 p.m., three hours before the doors opened, and was startled to see a line wrapping around the building. We figured that by the time we got there that line of folks would be in the building.
They were. What we didn’t think about was the fact that they’d also be lining up to check out.
Shoppers in lockstep
Initially we thought we might not be able to park, let alone shop. The parking area was jammed with snowy vehicles and folks were parking anywhere they could find room, including next to the loading docks. We followed other woebegone shoppers down an access road in the increasingly heavy snowfall. I am not exaggerating when I say that we would have been more than half a mile from the front door if we’d parked there.
Instead, we turned around and drove back. By then people were leaving the store clutching big-screen TVs and cookware sets, so we found a spot only about a five-minute walk from the front door. If the pavement had been dry it would have taken about two minutes.
Inside, it looked like high noon the day after payday. Young adults, older couples and entire families — including pajama-clad kids and cross-looking babies sucking fitfully on bottles — were trudging in lockstep. Not the kind of thing you’d expect in a department store at 12:45 a.m.
I also spotted small throngs of teens, keyed up and laughing at the strangeness of being at a department store at that hour. Hey, it beat sitting around picking at turkey leftovers with extended family. Think back to age 17: How many of you really wanted to hang out with parents, siblings and maybe even grandparents, aunts and uncles?
I bought four gift items using a gift card I’d recently won; my friend bought half a dozen. While waiting (and waiting, and waiting) to check out we heard that Best Buy had opened way sooner than the 3 a.m. start time in the newspaper ad. We decided to swing over and pick up a specific advertised item. I was already so punchy that I figured another few minutes wouldn’t hurt.
A few minutes? Apparently I hadn’t learned a thing.
Fun but tiring
The Dimond Center shopping mall parking lot was as packed as Target’s had been. Did that many people really want to buy electronics at that hour?
Nope. It turned out that Best Buy wasn’t the only mall store open, and Alaskans were taking advantage. I wish I’d had the caffeine concession, but someone else had already thought of that: A makeshift coffee kiosk was the first thing we saw as we walked in.
The lines at Best Buy were just as long but at least they were moving. Staffers were courteous and upbeat despite the lateness of the hour. Or maybe because of: Extra time on the clock meant extra bucks in the next check. One employee told me he was pulling a 12-hour shift. Yawn.
I wonder how many shoppers thought that the crowds would be smaller at that hour — that most people would rather show up at 5 a.m. than 2 a.m.? I also wonder how many folks who had their hearts set on the $6 T-shirts or $99 Kinects will find those shelves empty an hour from now. It’s past 4 a.m. and a new wave of shoppers should be hitting stores soon.
I’m not much for overdoing it at the holidays; heck, I just wrote an MSN Money column about Christmas for under $100. I may have spent less than that out of pocket myself, thanks to that gift-card win and a plethora of Amazon GCs obtained for free from Swagbucks. Right now I’m too tired to remember everything I’ve already bought and mailed, let alone to do the math for it all.
If you’re careful, some judicious Black Friday shopping can really stretch your giving budget. But it’s important to remember that this weekend does not necessarily include all the best prices of the season. Do some research with help from resources like:
- Exclusive deals and codes offered by sites like Savings.com
- The free app that Fat Wallet offers
- Coupons and cash-back rebates from sites such as Shop At Home, Mr. Rebates and Extrabux
Shopping at 3 a.m. was weirdly fun, but punchiness is not the same as exhilaration. My friend and I will be groggy as hungover frat boys tomorrow. That said, I’m glad we were able to make our budgets go as far as they did.
I’m even gladder that we’re both now officially finished shopping. When other people are plotzing about shopping and shipping, we’ll smile quietly to ourselves and think, “Done.” All that’s left for me to do is address some Anchorage Daily News moose calendars and mail them along with that copy of “Arkham City.” Well, that and to catch up on my sleep.