Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Friday 2011

The next big part of Thankgiving break is my obsession with Black Friday. If you aren't familiar with my exploits, I did some live blogging last year, you can find the first post here and then go forward from there.(Friday morning's line at Walmart checkout, the positive they were passing out bottles of 5 hour energy as samples)

This year I decided against live blogging as I hadn't updated in so long, but for those that follow twitter there were a number of tweets I had on the night.

The sales this year were very good, better then last year in my opinion. On top of it, companies seem to be doing a better job of stocking inventory. I still think it's best to stay away from most high end 'doorbusters' as the number of units per store is usually very small, but stores are getting better at at least having a fair amount of product on hand and a number of deals available where you don't have to completely get shut out at a store.

My plan was to get a couple hours of rest Thursday night, get up around 2 or 3 and then head out. I changed my mind about 10pm, as I realized Walmart was starting at midnight, anticipating about 2 hours there, I knew I could then hit Kohls at 3, Target at 4, and then a couple other stores at their 5am openings, depending on the haul from the first three. I had a fairly large list, but there was nothing on my list I 'had to have'. I believe this is a great way to approach Black Friday, if you go out having to have something, it's so easy to get disappointed if you miss it. Most of the things on my list were probably genuinely 30-50% off at least with a couple things that were much better deals as well.

I had done a large amount of shopping in the week leading up to Black Friday, Target had some outstanding deals during the week and I had also been able to pick up two large gifts at Best Buy that were at Black Friday prices earlier in the week. Price wise these were big items that in my opinion would have been difficult to get on Friday without waiting in line at a store hours before it opened, which just doesn't interest me. I also hit two stores on Thursday morning that had Thanksgiving deals. I was at the stores by 6am and home by 8am, typically hours that I would just be relaxing anyway, so it wasn't a big deal to hit them quickly. I do have a bit of a problem with these stores being open so early on Thanksgiving and what it means for the employees and I debated on whether to shop there or not. In the end I did decide to go, as the items I picked up were essentially loss leaders and did no good to the store in the long run, so I viewed it as my way of protesting the stores working their employees on that day. Take it for what it's worth though.

With all of the shopping during the week, it definitely meant I didn't have a ton of wants or needs for Friday, but I had a couple of nice items I was targeting. My planned worked out nicely, I did wind up spending about 2 hours in Walmart (with about 80 minutes spent in line), and then I hit Kohls, Target, Big Lots, Staples, and Home Depot before heading home. I wound up with a trunk load full of stuff for about $200 and probably averaged $30-$40 profit per hour for the effort. I missed a couple things that sold out, but for the most part did get most of what I wanted.

I tend to find that many of the things I wind up buying on Black Friday are things we use around the house, so while technically I am shopping for Christmas, I'm guessing 50% of my spend is for things like towels, throws for the living room, network components, and other things, it's a nice refresh once a year for things that typically aren't discounted to that level during the year, and they tend to not sell out so for a little effort it's worth it in my opinion.

The last point I want to make on Black Friday is my personal opinion of who does the best job as a company in handling it.

1. Target: Far and away the leader in how to do things. Here are the high points in what they do right.

  • Great sale week prior to Black Friday with many prices that beat Black Friday prices and for many items that no one had available on BF.
  • A fantastic job on laying out the store, they place their sales items in well traveled spots without creating a lot of traffic jams. They also do a very good job of displaying items with the proper price and visibility.
  • The sheer number of items available is the typically the best of any store. Many stores have 'lots' of things on sale, in my opinion though Target has lots of 'things' you want or can use. What this means is even if you are shut out on a deal, you probably will wind up going home with a couple things that you had on your list.
  • Line management and employees. Target has things organized and down to a science with this, I've never left their store feeling like they were overwhelmed. It's easy to feel that way at other stores.
2. Big Lots: I'm not a huge fan of Big Lots, but there are times when they have items that are quality and on sale, and since they aren't a big retailer, crowds aren't usually bad for this store. This year, I had some toys to pick up for the daughter that they had at very good prices. Management at the store was outside 30 minutes prior to opening, passing out tickets for some of their high end items, they were also very helpful in advising where other items were on the floor and were asking people to refrain from rushing the store as it opened. ( I don't think the crowd was ready too, but the manager handled a potential situation early and did a nice job in doing so). They also opened the doors 5 minutes early and considering it was 6 am and many had been out for a while and it was friggin' cold it was a nice gesture. There were only about 20 people in line, so it wasn't like they were about to get swamped in the store. The only negative I have is noticing some cashiers were allowing people to 'gorge' on items that had limits listed in the ad. I would have no problem with someone buying, leaving and coming back or splitting them up with someone else, but if the ad says limit 4 it should be held too. Now they didn't have a big enough crowd to sell out in the first hour, but it's the principle of it. With stores doing a better job of getting stock in for the sales, I believe there is a consumer responsibility to allow others to have the opportunity at those deals too.

3. Staples: They only had a few things I wanted and I was luckily enough to get here about 10 minutes after they opened (thanks to Big Lots for letting us in 5 minutes early, this is the type of thing that matters on BF), which meant no standing in line outside, but early enough to not miss anything. They were passing out tickets to all items on Page 1 and then you took the ticket to the back of the store where they gave you the merchandise, this was a great system as it kept the front of the store open and was very organized. They also had a community line they were directing people from to the registers, so there was no chance of getting in the 'bad' line or trying to queue up in a mess. Both of these actions were greatly appreciated. Staples also seemed to have a very solid supply of their advertised items, after seeing some stores that have 1 or 2 of something in an ad, this is a huge positive. The one issue I had with Staples was that they were passing out tickets at the front door, which meant it appeared to be a line to go in and you couldn't tell what they were doing until you got to the desk. I'm guessing they announced this prior to opening, but a free standing sign or something along those lines would have done wonders for this. It wasn't a big irritant as this location wasn't as busy as others I had heard about, but it is a small thing they could have improved upon.

4. Walmart: Ahh Walmart, the big dog on the block. As usual they have very solid deals and a large selection of inventory. No issues there. This year they opened at 10pm with deals starting at midnight and then another set of deals starting at 5am. This I presume is to try and eliminate the stampede issues they've had before. This did make for a huge cluster though in the store. People arriving at 10pm attacked pallets of product that weren't supposed to be opened (per store staff) until 12pm, which meant there was a ton of boxes, shrink wrap, and pallets that were not cleaned up by staff and added to the mess that the store appeared to be in. Considering Walmart had employees down almost every aisle to direct traffic and ensure no rowdy customers, I definitely think it wouldn't have hurt to put some on cleanup duty, as the clutter made a crowded store even worse. Add in the fact that there was a fair contingent that camped out in electronics and through the store, having grabbed the 5am items at 10pm and just camping for the 7 hours and it had the feeling of a homeless shelter at times. I did like that Walmart seemed to have a large amount of product and I liked that they had it out on the pallets, their signing on most of it was pretty bad though and there were a number of things that made no sense in where they were placed. Plus the pallet layout meant a mess if people were looking for a certain type. (Children's PJs come to mind). Their line management was atrocious as well, I referenced earlier that I spent about 80 minutes in line and was only able to get out as I moved lines finally as the line I was in leading up to 4 self checkouts, was the cause of the issue, as it appears that people are unable to use the self checkouts correctly. I will give Walmart props for passing out free bottles of 5 hour energy as a sample, it's the type of Black Friday weird thing that makes the day kind of fun. (Photo: Walmart electronics section at midnight)

5. Kohls: I like Kohls as a store, they tend to have some interesting things and their ads are always jam packed(although most of their 'bargains' aren't really as their original price is high). They tend to have some unique things at times and they also can get some standard items in especially at Christmas. I was able to get the three things I wanted at Kohls with no issue, and they had sent me a 15% email coupon prior to the sale, which I was able to use with no Kohl's card or any other provision which was nice as well. The issues I have with Kohls though, really make me think about whether I want to go back next year on Black Friday.
  • They have way too much merchandise on the floor. It's ridiculous the tiny amount of space that is available in aisles, in the rack section or anywhere else. Way too much stuff for the size of their floor. This is fine for non-BF days, but add in a large crowd and it's absurd. The sad part is I'm not even talking about the displays of Ad merchandise, this is just typical stock merchandise that is the problem
  • I was asked no less then 6 times while standing in line outside in the cold on whether I wanted to sign up for their Kohl's charge card. No means no!
  • One of the perks for applying for the card was jumping ahead in line, at first they advised these people would be going to a customer service desk for checkout, turns out that wasn't the case, they had a specific line for credit card applicants, although if you were in the back of the store, it appeared they were inserting them in front of the main line people as well. I can understand making a perk for applicants, but you need to do it somewhat fairly in this case, if the applicants were jumping the whole line, it's unacceptable in my opinion. It didn't help that I was asked another 10 times in the checkout line to apply for their card and asked again as I got to checkout. While I know the checkout clerk 'has to' I sort of rolled my eyes at this, as if I was going to apply, I probably would have done so when I could have skipped the line.
  • No carts at Kohls (well at least not many) if you are going to buy more then 2-3 things, forget it, combined with no room to move (because of the aisles). Navigating around Kohls as a solo shopper during BF is a major headache.
  • Kohl's had a bagger and a cashier at each spot (a very good thing). However the person in front of me had their bag go off at the security settings (tag on jeans) and my bag did as well, tag on dress for the wife. This is unacceptable, since the baggers only job is to bag and remove security tags. If it was just one I could understand, back to back is a problem.
6. Home Depot: Not much to write on Home Depot, the employees were helpful and I know Home Depot wishes they can drive some BF traffic, but it's just not going to happen. The good news is I got a great flashlight set for around the house and a Poinsettia for a dollar. It was also the only store where the clerk said "Merry Christmas" which while I know is a bit against political correctness, sort of made sense for Black Friday shopping and it was a nice touch at the last stop of the morning.

I wanted to hit Macys and Gap (Gap was offering 50% off all merchandise in store on BF). However by the time I finished at Staples and had basically spent the amount I budgeted for the day, I didn't have the energy to continue (especially considering the 10pm start with no sleep). Macy's sale was a bit lackluster although there was a pretty nice watch at a discount that I thought about buying for myself, but I decided to wait on that.

My final thoughts on BF.

  1. Stay away from Best Buy, unless there is something you have to have, you are going to spend the bulk of your morning there and considering their doorbusters have a limited amount you are likely to get shut out anyway. Bite the bullet and find a deal there on another day or somewhere else.
  2. To all the people with 2-3 carts and literally grabbing stacks off the shelves in order to just reduce at the register. I understand the importance of a 'good' deal, but there is such a thing as gluttony, really did you need that 4th shop vac. or are you just buying it because it's a 'good' deal.
  3. Is it really necessary to bring children/infants and the whole family out especially at midnight. While I understand that it might be beneficial to shop with someone or a couple people, its not the type of day to just 'hang' out for shopping especially for kids, find a baby sitter, or send one spouse out.
  4. Since the stores have gotten better with inventory, I think the onus is on the shoppers now. Do you really need those 25 blankets at 1.99 (I'm talking to the hillbilly and another woman at Kmart Thursday morning who almost came to blows as one looked in the other's cart thinking it was a store display). If there are limits on the item, pay attention to them, and remember if you leave them for someone else to get, you probably benefit if they do the same for another item. I don't mind if you buy the 4 you are limited to, take them out to the car and come back in for another 4 if you choose to do so, at least it gives someone else a chance to purchase them in the meantime.
  5. Stores, you have to do a better job at managing the crush of people, registers should be open with baggers at them for the big stores and you have to think about dynamics of lines and aisle space for shoppers. It wouldn't hurt to put people on cleanup duty too so your store doesn't look like a war zone.
  6. The last point is to remember it's not the end of the world if you don't get something, have fun with it, try and save some money and remember it's just stuff, if you don't get something you'll live and at worst if you really need it someone else probably has it on sale for a couple bucks more.

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