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Assault on Black Friday

Published November 28. 2009 09:00AM

I hope by the time you read this if you braved the crowds to go shopping yesterday, your Black Friday went well. Black Friday according to the Wikipedia originated as a term for the Friday after Thanksgiving in Philadelphia when the police coined the phrase to refer to the traffic jams and wall-to-wall traffic as shoppers crowded stores at the start of the holiday season.

Later the term morphed to mean the day when retailers went from being in the red or losing money to being in the black. The red and black terms come from accounting practices where red ink is used to indicate losses while black ink represents profits. The feeling is the heavy shopping that occurs on that day makes most merchants profitable. In actuality, statistics show that the final Saturday before Christmas or December 23rd if Christmas falls on a weekend is the most profitable shopping day.

While that may be true, we learned the hard way one year the reality of Black Friday. It was the first year we were married. There was a great sale advertised for a digital camera at Walmart, so Katie and I decided to take advantage of the early morning sale. I think it was 6AM. We dragged ourselves out of bed around 4:30 a.m. to get ready. Bleary eyed from the travel the day before we moved in a semi-comatose state through the motions of getting dressed.

We jumped in the car and headed for our destination, the Hazleton WalMart Supercenter. Our goal was to work through the crowd, pick up our cameras, check out and return home. The trip to Walmart was uneventful and to my surprise when we got there around 5:45 a.m., we were allowed in the store even though the sales did not begin until 6 o'clock. While traffic was no heavier than usual and even the parking lot did not seem too bad, we did not realize what was to come.

Unlike the stores we usually see on the news on Black Friday, the Hazleton store was open and allowed people to come into the store. The number of people in the store was much more than what I predicted based on the parking lot. There were people everywhere and what made the crowd seem worse was the pallets of merchandise stacked five or six feet high in the aisles.

Basically the rules of the game were simple. The employees would leave people shop for items already on the shelves, but most of the special sale items were on these shrink wrapped pallets. Shrink wrapped to the point that they seemed almost sterile and protected from human touch. Shoppers positioned themselves around these pallets like mosquitoes waiting for a bare arm to leave a screen house on a summer evening.

As we watched, we realized these weren't random shoppers either. These people had cell phones and a direct plan of attack. I never would have believed people approached shopping like an advanced military maneuver. Within earshot we could hear one woman barking commands to her team laying out a plan of attack. It was something like, "Okay. When it starts, I have the DVD players covered. John, you grab the board game. Susan, make sure you grab one of those dolls. Pete, don't forget the blender comes with the plates." Another was like, "I'm grabbing the camera and heading for house wares. I will meet you at aisle three in toys and we will work our way to jewelry." Our plan was easy. We wanted two cameras and we stood there waiting for them.

The clock ticked. Within two minutes, the Black Friday sale of 2003 was ready to begin. As the final seconds passed, people tensed. One could feel the adrenalin surging in the store. I could swear you could probably power a small city with the anticipation and tension being exhibited by shoppers. Five…four…three…, and it began.

Like a swarm of locusts we watched in amazement as the shrink wrap seemed to dissolve off the five foot tall pallets and the stacked merchandise just seemed to disappear in seconds as eager shoppers grabbed their new treasures and ran for the next location on the route. Within a few minutes, whole pallets of several dozen large boxes of DVD players and camcorders were no more. I think we were shocked for a minute just witnessing the sheer speed of people grabbing merchandise. We quickly came to our senses though and grabbed our cameras.

We were not in Walmart more than 15 minutes past 6 a.m. and we worked our way through the heavy crowds to checkout with our two gifts. When we got to the checkout lines we found them already full of shoppers with carts of items. In the time it took us to each grab one camera some of these people had more merchandise than we could possibly purchase in an hour.

The lines were congested, but we eventually made it to the cashier, paid for our two cameras and left the store, grateful to be in one piece without any damages and gifts in tow. Overall the experience was overall chaos and one which convinced both of us that the next Black Friday shopping day we undertake will probably be when pigs fly. After that experience, we now spend Thanksgiving weekend decorating for Christmas and shopping some other time. It is much more relaxing and doesn't require fighting crowds. Instead it's usually just a Christmas tree and lights.

Til next time…

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