Sunday, November 30, 2008

No More Black Friday Fiascos for Me

You know those early-bird Black Friday deals that so many retailers have begun offering each year on the morning after Thanksgiving? Well, I contend they are inherently unfair to the consumer.

A couple of years ago, I saw an ad on Walmart’s Website advertising a laptop computer for less than $300. I wanted one. So, even though I don’t like going to bed early and I hate getting up a second before 6:00 AM, I decided to hit the sack before midnight and set my alarm for 4:30.

I got up, splashed some water on, got dressed and headed for Walmart. I got there a couple minutes before the witching hour, but the parking lot was already so packed with cars that I had to park illegally in one of those striped handicapped areas. It wasn’t a true parking space. They always stripe off an area around the actual parking places that is large enough to park a bus, or a couple more cars. So it’s not like I was actually depriving anyone of a space.

Anyway, I braved the throngs and went inside, looking for my deal. It was barely past five in the morning when I was told the computers, all 30 of them, had already been sold. “How can that be?” I asked the clerk. “It hasn’t been five minutes since they went on sale.”

He told me they had started handing out tickets at around 2:00 AM, since Walmart is open all night. So the shoppers who were in the store at that time were the lucky ones who got to take home a new laptop on the cheap.

So that begs the question; if Walmart’s ad said the computers would go on sale at 5:00, then why were they giving out tickets to purchase them at 2:00? It meant, virtually, that everyone who had a ticket prior to five o’clock already had their computer in hand. They had a ticket, so all they had to do was trade it in for a computer at 5:00. It wasn’t fair to those shoppers, like me, who were na├»ve enough the think that a sale starting at five o’clock would actually start at that time.

In desperation, I went to Circuit City. They had also advertised a laptop deal, not quite as good as Walmart’s, but not bad. I knew I didn’t have much of a shot. By the time I got there it was already 5:30. But I was up and out, so I thought I would at least try.

I learned the same story there. Even though the store didn’t actually open until five o’clock, they started handing out tickets to those waiting in line a couple hours early. Again, a 5:00 AM sale had actually become a 3:00 AM sale. I learned my lesson.

The lesson learned was that since all the really good items are gone before the sales start on Black Friday, and the only way to get one of the products you’re shopping for is to get to the store hours early, spend most of the night there, and hope you’re one of the shoppers that get a ticket. I’m not going to play that game. I’ll forego the bargains. What I might have saved in dollars is spent in time and angst.

So, this year, I did a bit of shopping on Black Friday again. But I slept in until almost eight o’clock. I got up; my daughter and I went out for breakfast, and then we proceeded to Walmart where the Black Friday deal on a Blu-Ray disc player was for only $128.

When I got there, there were no more of those items left on the floor, so I asked an associate to check the back room. He said he didn’t think there were any more back there but he would look. I reminded him that the Walmart online site assured me that he did have some in stock.

A few minutes later he came out and said he had found two of the units, hiding on a shelf behind a bunch of carts and boxes. He would have to move a lot of stuff so it would take him a few minutes to dig one out. Oh, and one more thing: The price was no longer $128 since it was after 11:00 and the early-bird special was over. The computer had automatically kicked the price back up to the regular $198.

I told him I had no delusions that I would actually be getting one for the sale price. So I said go ahead and dig one out for me.

I happily walked out of the store with a full-priced Blu-Ray disc player. It was my first one. And although I would have been much happier had I gotten it for the sale price, I wasn’t going to play that early-bird game again, no matter what the savings.

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