Why Doing Lines on Black Friday Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Despite the conventional wisdom, Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year. Most procrastinators know that honor belongs to the Saturday before Christmas.

Black Friday has changed over the past decade or two, and the Internet has a lot to do with that.

Remember when stores used to give away special gifts for the first 100 customers through the doors on Black Friday? I rarely see that any more. Probably because there really is no need to.

In the old days, when newspapers ruled the roost, Black Friday advertisements would be delivered with the paper on Thanksgiving Day. This gave people little time to plan their course of action for the following day and, as a result, stores generally opened up no earlier than 5 a.m. the next morning.

Black Friday advertisements are usually “leaked” in early November now, giving people more time to learn about the deals. Perhaps not coincidentally, with each passing year, many stores have been opening their doors earlier on Black Friday. It’s gotten to the point where, now,   more than a few stores are opening at the stroke of midnight on Black Friday — if not sooner.

Of course, this tactic seems to have encouraged more people to get in line even earlier than they used to in order to take advantage of the loss leaders that most retail stores offer during the holiday shopping season as part of their so-called “door buster” deals.

Last year, I remember seeing people lined up outside my local Best Buy the day before Thanksgiving to take advantage of, well, I’m not really sure.

In 2010, Lori Davenport of St. Petersburg, found her 15 minutes of fame by supposedly being “the first” American to pitch a tent and stake a place in line for that year’s version of Black Friday. Let me repeat that. She lined up on a Tuesday, essentially three full days before Black Friday. I know.

What I find to be rather amazing is, despite pitching a tent and camping out for three days in front of her local Best Buy, Lori wasn’t exactly certain why she was there.  Oh, she admitted to wanting an Apple notebook — although she wasn’t sure which one she planned on buying. She also had some thoughts about picking up a few other items, but they didn’t seem to be real priorities.

Now is it just me, or does that sound rather odd? I mean, if I was going to throw away my Thanksgiving and all the creature comforts of home to camp out for three nights in a pup tent, you can bet I would know exactly what I was going to be getting when those doors opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Then again, I’m just nutty that way.

How much money can folks like this lady really be saving on her great gift ideas?

If she’s lucky, I’m guessing she might have saved a few hundred bucks on the notebook; hardly worth the inconvenience, if you ask me. Especially when you consider those savings have to be discounted to account for other Christmas sales that can be found during the remainder of the holiday season.  After all, it’s not as if store merchandise suddenly reverts to the full manufacturer’s suggested retail price after Black Friday is over.

Nevertheless, as Black Friday draws nearer, countless numbers of this year’s deal-seekers will be following in Lori’s footsteps; a few lucky ones will even find themselves near the front of the line.

As for me, I’m going to pass.

While I fully intend on watching a little football and eating a well-planned turkey dinner this Thanksgiving in the comfort of a warm home with the people I love, a lot of shoppers just like Lori will be away from their families, queued up in the cold — mired in dreary lines outside retailers all across America, from the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam. All in the name of saving a few extra dollars.

For their sake, I hope it’s worth it.

Photo Credit: Lilly

(This article was originally published on November 23, 2010.)



Comments

  1. 2

    says

    I have to admit that I have never shopped on Black Friday but I have seen people line up in front of Toys R Us at 5:30 a.m. when I was on my way to work. I have always wondered what Toys R Us was giving away for free that was so essential to these shoppers’ lives. On the other hand, I have survived pretty well not even knowing what kind of great deals I am missing. My holidays are usually focused around quality – and food, of course. I take pride in cooking a special dinner for my family which costs more than the average meal, but I still don’t think I have missed the great sales on foie gras or quail on Black Friday. Besides, fresh food bought on Black Friday would not last until my wife’s favorite holiday, New Year’s Eve, anyway.

  2. 3

    says

    I go a step further than the Saturday before Christmas, I wait until 23rd or even Christmas Eve. Sometimes you can even lock in discounts because everyone has already begun bracing for the influx of returned items.

  3. 4

    says

    I don’t shop on Black Friday, and I never have. When my kids were little they didn’t really watch TV, so there was no way for them to even know about the latest hot toy.

    Giving up Thanksgiving to rot in line is ludicrous. If you have to do that to buy a macbook or whatever, then you probably can’t afford to buy one in the first place. (Allocate that money elsewhere.)

  4. 6

    says

    I believe Ms. Davenport is doing this more for the media attention than for the deals. After all, how did the media even know she set up a tent? And, how did they know she was the first shopper and not someone else camped out in Buffalo? I’ll be she, or someone else she knows, called them. This news story reminds me of the Balloon Boy.

  5. 7

    says

    @Nicolas: She seems like an intelligent lady. You may very well be correct!
    @Ctreit: I’ve got caught up shopping on Black Friday on only a couple of rare occasions. I promise I will never ever do it again. The traffic, the lines, the mob mentality — I find it all rather embarrassing.
    @Dan: When I was in college I remember waiting until Christmas Eve to buy my gifts. I did that once — big mistake.
    @Everyday: “If you have to do that to buy a macbook or whatever, then you probably can’t afford to buy one in the first place.” Kris, you make a GREAT point! I know that doesn’t apply to everyone, but I bet it applies to a big chunk of folks.
    @BIFS: You’re right about height being an issue. The Honeybee is 5’0″ in shoes – I’m afraid I would lose her in the crowds too. LOL :-)
    @Bret: That is another great observation. That’s why I said she’s “supposedly” the first person to stand in line. If she wanted attention, she definitely got it!

  6. 9

    says

    Love the title! I have shopped Black Friday sales in the past but never got there more than 10 minutes before the doors open. There’s always been enough product for me to get the desired items.

    This year, I just plan to buy a dress for the company holiday party so won’t be out at dawn. No big rush for that!

  7. 10

    says

    Does anyone remember Jesus Christ among the quagmire that people seem to be stuck in? Isn’t this madness kill the whole purpose of Christmas? Are people celebrating Christmas or are they celebrating who can buy the most gifts?

  8. 11

    says

    @Kay Lynn: I know some one who was complaining about people who get to the store a few minutes before the doors open and wander by the front door, kind of aimlessly, before sneaking in the door with the rest of the folks as the doors open. It actually sounds like a good way to beat the lines — assuming the other folks in line don’t kill you first. LOL
    @DF: Great point. For many people I think it is the latter… :-(

  9. 12

    Sarah Hill says

    It’s funny how times have changed. I remember when stores used to give out the gift cards like you were talking about. I am guilty of planning ahead. I just signed up on BlackFriday.info to receive the ads from my favorite stores as soon as the sales are “leaked”. I guess I want to know early what my game plan is going to be. If I can save $100 or more, then I’m sold on going out for the item.

  10. 13

    says

    It’s sad to see that shopping is fast becoming the be all and end all of many peoples lives. Seriously, isn’t 3 days spent with your family more meanignful and preferable to camping out for 3 days, just to save a bit of money?
    I mean if you REALLY wanted to save that much money or more, you could use those 3 days to read a few personal finance blogs ;)

  11. 14

    Amanda says

    I went Black Friday shopping maybe twice. It was awful. The crowds, the rude people, and the traffic all made it miserable. You can’t pay (or save) me enough money to do it again.

    Truthfully, the main shopping centers are a zoo any time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I weren’t such a terrible procrastinator, I’d do all my shopping earlier in the year. As it is, I like to take off a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before Christmas (not Christmas Eve) and show up as early as possible. It’s still not ideal, but I’ve had good luck finding deals without so many elbows to the ribs.

  12. 15

    says

    Hi, Len. Thanks for posting this essay again. Isn’t amazing what the retail world can convince us we need to do in order to “get the best deal” or “lay hands on the best and most popular present.” Ugh! I stopped shopping on Black Friday and Boxing Day years ago. In fact, this year I offered a few alternatives. If you’re interested, here’s what I had to say about the holiday: http://adventuresinthanksliving.com/2012/11/09/thankful-ill-be-home-on-black-friday/
    Peace and a peaceful Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  13. 17

    Lola says

    I shopped on a black friday once (10+ years ago), and I didn’t get to the store until about 9am. What a zoo! I vowed never to shop a black friday again, and so far I’ve kept my vow. I would rather stay home and decorate the house anyway. :)

  14. 18

    says

    We don’t have a particular day when Xmas shopping starts over here and I suspect with the continual sales and all the online trading, such days will disappear anyway. There is of course the after-Christmas sales but again these now seem to start before the Big Day! I guess retailers are doing anything to get ahead of their competitors.

    But such events are for us a reason to go elsewhere. Crowds of shoppers and frenzied buying are not our cup of tea!

  15. 19

    Norman says

    I make it a point every year to have all my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving Day. I just got mine done yesterday, so no Black Friday shopping for me. I do this so my focus is not on shopping but on my church, my family and my friends during the holidays.

  16. 20

    chad says

    Great read. Not much into Black Friday shopping. I ran across this website a few years ago and can proudly say that I’m doing my part to end compulsory consumption.

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