A mall and the night visitors.

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:

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.


14 Comments

  1. ” A mall and the night visitors ” … very clever, Donna. :-)

  2. Oh very very funny account Donna and glad for you that all of your efforts bore fruit. I’m as frugal as the next woman but I don’t know if i could brave those elements and crowds. Good you had your friend with you for company and moral support.
    My frugal Christmas consists of giving some money to my nieces, nephews and son and some chocolates, food items for the older people. I will also give some gift cards for work gifts. Thus I will practically avoid the malls altogether and will also fulfill my other passion(besides frugaliyy) for minimalism/greener planet.

  3. I worked in retail for years, and we were never allowed to take any time off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I always dreaded the holiday season, especially Black Friday. Thankfully, I never had to work at 2 A.M. I think that having to get up that early to work is unfair to retail employees, especially since in most cases it’s not like they get paid more than the usual minimum wage for Black Friday.
    Did you hear about the woman who pepper sprayed people in order to be the first one to get to the electronics? I don’t think she’s been arrested, (though she definitely should be) but wow. That’s definitely extreme in terms of shopping.

  4. Numberless casualties! Pepper sprayed collateral damage! Explosive crowds on the edge of violence — dateline Egypt? Syria? UC Davis? Nope, Walmart’s, Black Friday (or Thursday, actually).

    Much as I love a bargain, am too lazy to do anything after the anschluss (sp?) of turkey, etc. I wish I had your fortitude — in the great white north, no less! Kudos to anyone lining up in 15 degrees to do anything!! I half-hankered to be at Old Navy scooping up a winter jacket, but tryptophane-induced lethargy held me back. More kudos to you for 1) sticking to your budget and actually stretching those holiday dollars for carefully researched items and 2) not resorting to Arab spring tactics to get them. And 3) for best holiday pun so far this year.

    • Donna Freedman

      It could have been worse. For the past week the high in Fairbanks has been about 30 below zero. Now that’s cold.

  5. Good for you!!! I wasn’t brave enough to head out and was a bit too hungover from all of the turkey. I’ll be 40 in a month and I just can’t handle the turkey like I used to.

  6. Good article and a funny account of “Black Friday”…”sleep deprivation” is a funny thing. My “gang” stuck to our tradition arriving at the “Outlets” a bit before 5 AM …. parking and shopping were a breeze as the madness had subsided. AND the same deals were available….it was great. Some good deals…some not so much…..

  7. You know, we are in Houston but since we aren’t after the big ticket items, we did ok… we got to Walmart around 6:30am, and you know, there were no lines at the checkout, and not all that many people in the stores, and we went to 2 Walmarts, and 2 Targets. Got some good seasons on DVD for $10 each, kids clothes/bedding, video games, (toys wern’t a good sale this year) and like you, used some gift cards, and etc, though, we did spend a little mor eout of pocket than planned, but my mom will be happy for the next year and a half or more (I give her 2 seasons of Stargate each give giving holiday and found the show we were working on there!) The mall was busy, but not as bad as last year.

  8. Glad I don’t do the midnight/2am thing. My wife dragged me out to one about 7 years ago, but that was enough.

    I think the motivation is really a group thing, sorta like being at a football game where everyone is into mass hysteria about some ball being thrown around. Midnight shopping to put debt on one’s credit card… wtf? Leave me out of that.

    I do agree that with some companionship there is a feeling of comradery. That’s a good thing, but if one gets assaulted, shot, sprayed with pepper spray, etc., not worth it. See me in the store after New Years.

  9. Now A Country Mouse

    I have never taken a chance at one of the “door buster” items on Black Friday, but I have come to a conclusion after this years experience. I headed to Wal-Mart around 3pm on Black Friday. All of the crowds were gone, most folks were home watching college football and/or catching up on sleep. The store was in recovery mode…there were lots of associates on hand replenishing items. Everything I had my eye on was still there. All checkouts were open, and I walked right up to one. In my opinion, if you can wait out the crowds, and are looking for something that isn’t a big ticket item, there a good chance you can get it at a great price without the crowds. I purchased a few toy items to keep on hand for this years upcoming birthdays.
    P.S. – If you want a laugh, check out the Saturday Night Live Black Friday spoof…hilarious!

  10. sandra jensen

    I just did my duty for the economy. Placed an order on Amazon. I clicked through on your Amazon ad – hope that gives you a share. :-)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sandra: Thank you! I get a li’l finder’s fee any time someone buys after clicking through on the widget. A lot of people don’t know that it isn’t just the lightning deals that this works for — if you click at the top, where it says Amazon.com, you’ll be taken to the Amazon home page and if you order, I get credited. So thanks for doing that. A solvent blogger is a happy blogger. ;-)
      Just ordered a few things from Amazon myself, but through the widget on my daughter’s site — it doesn’t count if I order from my own. Here’s hoping she still gets the fee if I paid with Amazon GCs. I got them from Swagbucks, so it’s been a mostly free holiday for me.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment. And for ordering!

  11. Donna, that staffer working 12 hours did not get any extra pay. I have a nephew who works retail and trust me if they get even close to 40 hours in a week they have to clock out and go home. On Black Friday he did have to get to work by 2:30 am and put in 12 hours, all included on his less than 40 hours. His biggest, never-ending refrain: “Yeah, and only 30 minutes for lunch.” I would just smile and say “Welcome to my world. Most nurses work 12 hours and only get 30 minutes for lunch.” On a bright note he came home in a good mood and bragged, surprisingly, that “I didn’t have a customer in a bad mood until after twelve.”

  12. People waited in lines here for over 10 hours. Someone ought to set up a hotdog cart or hot cocoa and make some good money.

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  1. Black Friday 2012: A near-minimalist approach. | Surviving and Thriving - [...] she and I did have a good time, sociologically speaking at last year’s Black Friday. (See “A mall and …

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