Black Friday is a grotesque combination of everything about USAmerica that is glorious and wonderful, and vile and revolting, all rolled into a pumpkin spiced spiral thingy with cream cheese frosting inside and screaming-punk-ass-kid sprinkles on top. If you're not from the USA, then you absolutely must see this festive occasion (much like my desire to travel back in time to the Roman Colosseum to see a gladiatorial battle; no, I don't condone such things, but the grotesquery and violence of it makes me wish I could catch a peek-a-boo just once before passing into the afterlife that awaits me).
What? Dare I compare Black Friday to the murderous games of Ancient Rome? Hell yeah! A quick search on "The Googlez" will provide a cacophony of stories and the cries of the dead and trampled from this glorious day of American capitalism at its bestworst. And I've seen the wonders up close and personal. Mind you, I bear the scars of these battles of Exmasses past.
As a young manager at Walmart, I opened the doors at 4am! I managed the Layaway Department and had to call the police (yes, the police) because the line WRAPPED AROUND THE STORE and our clientele began RIOTING, as in: knocking down racks, breaking things, and threatening violence. My fellow manager was pulled over the counter by an angry woman demanding that we find her Radio Controlled H2 Hummer for her kid (they were popular in 2005). I witnessed one woman PUNCH another woman in the face in a quibble over a laptop of such poor quality that the woman walking away sans computing device was really the one who won. (But I'll never tell!)
So what are the best hacks for Black Friday? Read carefully, for your life may depend on it:
- Shop local. I mean it, people! America is falling the hell apart because we're ignoring the mom & pop's around us. I don't care if that local "ye olde shoppe" is run by a hippie or a communist. . . shopping there -- no matter who owns it -- is better than any big brand chain you can find and whatever "small" harm you do by supporting that jerk is counterbalanced by the fact that you're supporting a small business that is so important as the foundation of your community's economy. PLUS: you never get service quite like you do by shopping local and you generally avoid lines. I make sure that I get about 30% of my goods (I'm not stupid) from mom and pops and the rest, I ...
- Get online at (or if you must, or ). The price differences are so completely negligible that whatever the cost difference, you'll have saved your sanity for the few cents extra you pay. By the way--this big day for online deals is "Cyber Monday" and it's still a pain in the ass because most of the retailers' sites get overloaded (though last year supposedly they did better).
- If you must go in person, remember: the best deals are only "best" for like ten major items. Seriously. I mentioned this above, but I've been a salaried manager at Target, Walmart, Costco, and Kohl's. I know these companies well. I still have friends who work at each of them. I get all the gory details in advance, and the secret is: you've been duped if you think it's worth waking up at 2am to go buy stuff (oh, sorry, they all open at midnight or even 8pm on Thanksgiving to begin the mayhem).
- The best sales are not always on Black Friday. Well, okay, the best sales on some "key" items are on Black Friday (like they get 20 Hamilton-Beach mixers in and sell them at a loss for $15 instead of $35--and all the "stuff" sold at a loss is of such low, unbelievably crappy quality that--frankly--the language police should arrest me for combining the worlds "quality" and "Black Friday" into the same sentence).
- If you must go in person, reconnoiter the joint in advance. Yes, you heard me. Reconnoiter. Begin by making a list of the things you want. Make sure it's reasonable and worth the trip. If Tommy Tonkatruck wants a Powerwheels Mini-Jeep for Chanukah, guess what: it won't be on sale on BF, so just get it another day and save the trip. So make sure your list contains things that will really be worth it. "But how do we do that, Dan?"
- Go to theblackfriday.com and look at the ads that people (not me ... okay, me) secretly posted online (their business intelligence is pretty good). You should compare those "in store" deals to the online prices because--as I said--you really should just buy it all online, if you can't find it at a local shop.
- Then pick your store(s), but not too many. Like, keep it 4 or under.
- Send in your intelligence assets to get the rundown of the place. Yes. That means you. And do it the day before Thanksgiving because that's when they'll have massive crews of employees putting the stuff up, or at least walking the floor in preparation. As a manager whose OCD was best suited to crowd control and disaster preparations, I proudly brag about my Black Friday preparations. I bought colored masking tape to draw lines on the floor, I Adobe Acrobatted maps for my team, I had radios. I had plans so detailed that Cylons drooled with envy. I was Erwin Rommel when it came to Black Friday, and I tell you that the only way to do well as a shopper is to get into the trenches before the war starts and find out what the enemy is doing.
- And I've seen some rare customers "get it" and do exactly this. So, it will take you about three hours (you're not really going to try to hit more than four stores, are you? Good, you're not stupid). This means: 1 hour for drive time, 30 minutes in each store. You're walking in, you're taking notes. You're talking to their employees (yes, talking with them) and asking, "Hey Suzy Chapstick! I see that Frothmart is having its big sale and I was wondering, where are you strategically placing the Ronco Rotissery Oven/Child's Playpen combo pack?" And then make a note of it on a piece of paper. This way, when you and your Seal Team Six shopping crew enter the store, you can kill Bin Lad ... er, I mean, get the items you came for and leave.
- A side note on filling your cart: DON'T. Just don't. Look, I said this once already, there are like a handful of items sold on Black Friday that are truly "deals". So, don't do it. Just get those items that are really great and get the hell out. Save yourself the headaches of dealing with all those people. The rest of the garbage you're buying can wait for another day (or even later in the day when-after 2pm-the stores will be ghost towns). And don't fool yourself: you'll miss out on some of the "insane prices" on some items, so make a list and organize it as a priority. Each store's list shouldn't contain more than ten items (if that). If you miss a few, you'll live.
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