Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day 200 - Going to a Black "Friday" Sale

I have never been to a Black Friday sale. In fact, I have never had any desire to go to a Black Friday sale. Nothing about the yearly commercial ritual, from the overwhelming overtones of materialism to the rioting crowds of people (literally) fighting for “deals”, has ever appealed to me. Each year when news reports of people harmed, hurt, or killed trying to buy things for Christmas would surface I would simply shake my head in disbelief. I didn’t understand why people put themselves in such chaos for the sake of saving a little money of stuff they probably didn’t need, and I wasn’t about to wade into the mess that is the “busiest shopping day of the year.”

Of course, I knew that I couldn’t fully understand the appeal of Black Friday unless I experienced it firsthand, which caused me to reluctantly add “going to a Black Friday sale” to my list of new experiences I sought to obtain during my “I have never...” year. As a result, early in my 365 day journey I blocked off the day after Thanksgiving to make good on my plans to experience a Black Friday sale for the first time. However, as the holiday drew closer more and more retailers began to announce their intentions to move the start of Black “Friday” to the evening of Thanksgiving Day. Although the idea of retailers forcing their way into a holiday focused on joining with family and friends to be thankful for the things we already have was enough to irritate me, I realized I had to play along if I was to gain the Black Friday sale experience. In turn, I grudgingly cut my time with Rachael’s family short this afternoon and made my way to a local Best Buy to experience Black Friday, and all its pandemonium, for the very first time.

I arrived at Best Buy nearly 90 minutes before the store’s scheduled opening thinking I would be in a good position to get in early and observe the event as it unfolded. To my surprise, a line of people wrapping around the building between a series of temporary metal fences had already formed. Despite the cold and the coming night, people had sacrificed the bulk of their holiday to stand in front of a Best Buy, guided by a setup reminiscent of barnyard corral. Somewhat ashamed I was about to subject myself to the experience, I slowly walked to the back of the quickly forming line and took my place behind the fence. Then all I could do was wait.

As I got acquainted with the few square feet of pavement that would serve as my base for the next hour and a half, I looked over the line of people on either side me. As people chattered about the items they hoped to purchase and about their previous experiences at Black Friday sales, it quickly became apparent many of them saw the event as much a holiday as the Thanksgiving festivities that were happening in homes across the country. While I didn’t understand the celebratory status they were assigning to Black Friday, I quickly settled on the idea that the way they chose to celebrate the start of the holiday season was entirely up to them, and in some ways, it wasn’t much different than the rituals many people perform for any number of holidays celebrated around this time of year... sans the violence and tumult, of course.

Getting longer...

...and longer

After nearly an hour of waiting, Rachael decided to join me in the Black Friday madness. With the cold starting to sink into my bones, her company provided a much needed distraction to help me push through the rest of the wait. As time passed, Best Buy employees began to make rounds with advertisement flyers, store maps, and tickets to reserve big ticket items included in the Black Friday sale.  Although Rachael and I didn’t have any purchases in mind for our experience at the Black Friday sale, the time spent waiting gave us plenty of time to review the ad and narrow in on some potential gifts for our family members. Eventually, we decided we would try to scoop up a few items while were at the store. The decision made me feel as though I had caved into the concept of Black Friday, but I knew doing so would help me gain the full experience of the day. As a result, we waited and listened as Best Buy employees walked by calling out the items for which they had tickets. Although the items we decided to purchase were oddly absent from the items being announced as each employee passed, we ultimately tracked down the tickets for the items we were after, which set the plan for our time in the store.

As the clock turned toward the store’s opening time, I shook out my legs and did my best to keep moving to ward off the cold gripping my body. The excitement of the crowd grew with each passing minute until the line began a sudden rapid shift forward without warning. Realizing it meant to store was open, Rachael and I did our best to keep our place in line as people surged forward toward the open doors. In a matter of moments we were inside the building with a rush of people flowing around us.


Doing our best to gain our bearings, we asked a few employees for the location of certain items and quickly formulate a plan for how we intended to pick up the items we were after. In the midst of our discussion I suddenly noticed the wave of people had subsided suddenly, which cause me to begin looking around the store. As I moved my eyes back toward the entrance I noticed a towering Best Buy employee standing in front of the entrance doors with his hands reaching to either side of the doorframe. Behind him, a stack of people packing into the vestibule between the store’s two sets of entrance doors stood at the ready. Relieved at the fact they were restricting the flow of people into the store, I stood by and observed the activity of the crowd for a moment. Around me people raced from one part of the store to another, and outside a line of people stirred and pushed against the Best Buy employee guarding the door in a scene that very well could have been a rehearsal for an episode of “Walking Dead.” The whole experience was strange, and in some ways it made me a little uncomfortable.

Drawing back to our plan of attack, Rachael decided to break off and pick up a few items as I did my best to absorb the experience. Amid the chaos of employees being mobbed with questions and people unnecessarily hurrying from one stack of items to the next, I paced myself and tried to maintain my bearings. As the minutes passed I actually found that effort easier, which made the rest of my first Black Friday experience relatively uneventful. As Rachael and I found our way through the ridiculous maze of aisles Best Buy had set up as a series of one way streets through the store, we were able to track down the items we wanted to purchase and get to the cash registers with little issue. Thankful we hadn’t experienced or witnessed any extreme chaos or violence, I purchased the few items I had decided to make a part of my Black Friday experience and headed for the door. With Rachael at my side, I looked over at the horde of people still forcing their way into the entrance behind the man guarding the door and felt glad our experience was over. I had gone to a Black Friday sale and come out relatively unscathed, with the exception of a little lighter wallet, of course.

Almost out of the madness

After my first experience at a Black Friday sale I can say I still don’t get it completely, but I learned it isn’t my place to judge those people that really get something out of the experience. That stated, I can say quite confidently I will likely never attend a Black Friday sale. As someone that is anxious in disorganized crowds and as someone that generally tries to avoid commercial hype, the event just isn’t for me. That perspective was reinforced when Rachael and I returned home tonight and realized all of the items we purchased in the store were available for the same price online with free shipping to our home. On that finding alone we agreed our time and safety was more valuable than to sacrifice both for the sake of a Black Friday sale. I’ll take convenience and calm during the holiday shopping season over unpredictable chaos and hyper-materialism any day, particularly when it is below freezing outside.

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