Having its origins during the 70’s, the Black Friday receives its name from the heavy traffic that is observed on this day at stores. People go crazy doing their shopping on Black Friday and the crowd not only floods stores aisles, parking lots and mall escalators, but also the streets overall, which become a complete chaos with the huge sales going on as loads of people push and curse at each other while awaiting anxiously for stores to open.
A different theory suggests that Black Friday represents the time in which retailers turn their red numbers or financial losses into profits or black numbers given the large amount of sales on this particular day. However, making profit only during the holiday season and operating at a financial loss during most of the year doesn’t seem like something businesses would really live up to since their financial objectives require them to make money throughout the year, so the accounting-practice premise seems more like an urban legend to me.
Black Friday may only fall between the 23rd and the 29th of November, always the fourth Friday of the month. Although it is not an official holiday, people typically have the day off due to the Thanksgiving long weekend and on this day most stores offer the lowest possible prices and deep discounts on almost every item they carry. The Black Friday specials are typically published in the newspaper on Thanksgiving Day, although most big merchants release ads earlier both on the press and online, so that people can plan in advance and in order to attract more shoppers.
The sales on this day were originally intended for early Christmas shoppers, but in recent years it has been pointed out that some people shop during BF in order to get huge discounts on items they can later resell, oftentimes online. On this day, customers line up in front of shops from early dawn and for hours to benefit from stores’ big sales. Everyone wants to get the best bargains, especially since some stores even give out free gift cards to a certain number of customers, which can be coupled with the savings people can get from coupons and other special deals. Although electronics, toys and jewelry are often the items people search the most; apparel, shoes, and even food may also be sharply discounted.
Most experienced shoppers typically do some research beforehand and visit the stores on the days prior to BF to know exactly where the items they’re interested in are to be located. They also do research on the different sales, do some price matching (consisting of retailers letting customers buy items at the lower price that a competitor is charging), collect as many coupons as possible, and make sure to bring with them a list of what they want to buy. Then, they make sure to go to bed early on Thanksgiving Day because they know that they will get the best deals from stores that offer them in limited amounts if they wake up really early.
After opening time, store staff members only allow small groups of people to enter the shop at a time, and customers begin their hectic shopping experience by rushing to grab their items. The morning hours are by far the best to shop, not only because people are more likely to find what they’re seeking after, but also because not everyone is an early bird and not everyone sacrifices to get up early, so as packed as stores might be, it is expected that it gets worse as the day reaches its zenith.
Even though some people like doing window-shopping only, during Black Friday, some other people, like me, prefer not to shop on this day at all. I usually don’t handle well rivers of people, overcrowded parking lots, long lines and packed stores; I never went shopping on a Black Friday in the 5 years I lived in The States, so it didn’t really ever become a part of my Thanksgiving tradition.
Despite of this, Black Friday remains the busiest day for shops and retails at least in terms of customer traffic, although not necessarily in terms of sales’ volume since in reference to that, this day usually falls two or more spots behind the weekend before Christmas and other shopping days. My boyfriend, unlike me, typically takes advantage of the Black Friday sales while saving himself some much needed cash, this year in particular so that we can see each other in December (keep in mind that we currently maintain a long distance relationship.)
So as Black Friday broke this year on November 23rd, Mauri put on his comfiest shoes and wore his most classical-casual outfit to embark on his BF shopping adventure. He had already visited the stores, gathered his coupons and done his research. He had also planned on the stores he would be visiting first, starting with the ones that were closer to his house and also the ones that had the deals he thought would run out faster, so he made sure to be there earlier.
My boyfriend had it all figured out from going to bed early thereby waking up early, not taking the car, wearing a comfy attire, carrying an iPod and a PSP, having done the research well in advance, having visited stores on the previous days to locate items, and having collected all possible coupons, but even so, that still doesn’t do it for skilled BF shoppers; I mean they still need a more powerful weapon, and it’s what I’ve called THE “shopping tactics.”
Tactic #1: Divert the enemy’s attention
He had 50 people in front of him at Circuit City, the store he visited first, at 3am in the morning. They finally opened a couple of hours later, and he waited another half hour in line to finally get inside the shop. He was planning on buying a 4G memory stick card for his digital camera so we can take thousands of pictures in December. It was going for $30, but BF isn’t just a normal shopping day in which you walk into the stores to find the discounted items organized and where they’re supposed to be; on the contrary, Black Friday is the day people become animals and spread into the jungle to gather, what I’ve called, their stack of “annual food” even if that means using their teeth and nails in the process. Nevertheless, the orderliness depends on the location and the store, but madness tends to be the norm at least when it comes to Black Friday in Miami, FL.
As my boyfriend was desperately searching for his first article, another customer approached him and asked what he was looking for. My boyfriend quickly made up a story and replied he was looking for something other than what he was actually looking for, and the man in turn, told him that he was looking for that 4G memory stick that was going for $30 when the price usually more than triples. Carrying lots of items around becomes ineffective when people are trying to make the most out of time, so what they do to make sure they get their share of the pie is to actually hide items anywhere around the store so they can come back to them later.
Knowing this, in a very sincere and natural way, my boyfriend proceeded to distract the guy by telling him that the store had actually run out of that item because it was a well-liked one, so the man left the aisle in disappointment while he expressed how unbelievable that was. In the meantime, my boyfriend continued to look until, buried among other stuff, he got to find the only one piece of memory-stick card of that kind.
Tactic #2: Make an intentional misstatement
As people fought to buy that plasma TV at a heavily discounted price and everyone seemed to keep going aggressively crazy at the store, my boyfriend went on to find his next item on the list, so he got to the photo-frame aisle only to realize it was packed with a thousand women who were discussing how great the frames would look on their houses and how their husbands would like one or the other.
My boyfriend approached the group of women and pretended to be a salesclerk. He politely offered the ladies assistance after which they asked if he worked there and he replied, in a very self-assured tone, that he did. Right after his lie, one of the women said she was looking for that digital photo frame that was going for $50 when it usually costs $100. My boyfriend turned around and pretended to look for it and then told the lady that they had probably run out since it was a very popular item. My boyfriend suggested she looked elsewhere in the store pointing out that people usually hid items so they could go back to them. The lady and her friends left discouraged while my boyfriend got down on her knees and kept looking for the frame until he got it. He realized there was more than one so he got back to that woman although she said she had already found one on the DVD section.
Then he had to wait about 45 min in one of the lines to pay for his memory stick and another hour and a half to pay for the other item. As I was listening to the story, I was absolutely shocked at the crazy things he had done just to get his items, and especially at the fact that he had planned on dressing nicely for the sole purpose of doing what he did. My only question is, didn’t these people notice he wasn’t wearing a uniform? Maybe they thought he was an undercover salesperson, but what they didn’t know is that he was actually a clever undercover buyer who fooled them so he could get the same items these other customers were looking for.
Tactic #3: Arouse the approval of the staff
He finally left, and it was then time to go to Macy’s. My boyfriend was smart enough not to take his car and instead walked to the mall. He was infinitely grateful for this as he noticed how absolutely crazy things were at the parking lot after he got to Dadeland Mall in Miami, FL. As he approached Macy’s almost at 8am in the morning, he noticed there were three or four female employees at the front door welcoming customers and still giving out some gift cards. But wait, last year they ran out of gift cards by 6:30am, so how come they were still handing them out at 8:00am? My boyfriend stood still as to observe what was going on, and he discovered that the ladies in the front door were not giving the gift cards to everyone who walked into the store. He said they were mostly giving them to elder people, couples and people who were well dressed.
He was well dressed on purpose as he mentioned staff treats you better if you are nicely dressed, but he was lacking both the age and partner that could make him win the favor of some of these employees. After a few minutes of observing the staff behavior, he came up with a strategy so that he could be one of those people who got the gift card. He approached the store while making eye contact with the one lady he thought could give it to him. She caught him looking, but he meant for her to do so; he kept walking towards her, and as he stepped closer he saluted and made some conversation about the craziness of people and the busy day. He made sure to mention he was getting presents to his family, and this seemed to engage the lady’s attention. He went on to mention he also was getting presents for his girlfriend, that would be me, and this definitely melted the lady’s heart as he left his mark. She handed him a $100 gift card while wished him a Happy Thanksgiving, and as my boyfriend kept on walking into the store while doing the “YES!” gesture we typically make when we achieve something.
Tactic #4: Take advantage of the enemy’s compassion
Once inside Macy’s, he went straight to the area where the items he was looking for were located. He wanted some scarves but only found trash in the box where scarves were supposed to be, so he went on to the next item on his list. He started to get frantic after noticing the item wasn’t where he had seen it earlier on that week. He kept looking and looking miserably, as it was an item that as he mentioned, he “could not, not get,” so he continued to search for it until he saw a woman he decided to approach. He once more pretended to work at this store while he offered assistance to the lady. She actually asked where she could find some apparel that the lucky bastard had happened to see on his way in, so he gave the woman directions and made her leave.
He kept looking unsuccessfully until a white light suddenly illuminated the sky as he found his next victim. He actually saw the only woman at the store who had the item he was looking for in her hands, so he started chasing after her and observing her behavior as to see if he could catch her dropping the item. She dropped another item but kept hanging on to this one, so he decided he HAD TO do something about it or else he would lose it. He next approached the lady and he asked her where she had found that item. She explained herself as my boyfriend asked whether there were more and she replied there were, but scattered all around the place.
My boyfriend, in a very heartbroken tone, mentioned that he had been looking for it for hours and that he couldn’t find it. His voice started to break down as he told the lady that he felt so bad, that it was stupid, that he woke up at 2am in the morning for nothing and that he had been planning on getting that item forever. The lady tried to calm him down as he kept insisting that his girlfriend really wanted it and that it wasn’t fair until the lady finally gave in to his cuteness, tenderness and seemingly sincere desperation.
The lady offered him to stay with HER item, but he refused saying that it was okay and that he was sure he could find something else. The lady insisted even though my boyfriend said he couldn’t do it, and that he would feel really bad for taking it. She emphasized that he should take it since she didn’t really need it, as it was only an “impulse buy.” For the fourth time during the day he succeeded in carrying out his tactics and got his precious item.
One way or the other I can only say CHAPEAU for him! He stayed focused and didn’t let himself be caught up in the frenzy; he received all the deals he had been looking for even if he didn’t have a family, team or an accomplice with who to devise a plan of splitting to make the most of time and sales at different stores. He really worked hard to get those items even if what he did might not seem righteous. It was legal nonetheless and the only way not to be eaten as Black Friday “is a zero-sum game” in which either you get what you want or somebody else will. I thought I would share this story just in case you wonder how people manage to survive throughout Black Friday shopping. For people like my boyfriend, the struggle is certainly worth the sweat of their brow; and as for me, I’m still sitting in the comfort of my room not wanting to join the madness that this busy shopping day in the States brings along.
Images by: Brian Edward Dean, Adrian, Kagedfish & Allan Chatto @ Flickr