Black Friday Observations

Green fabric shopping bag with Black Friday written across the sideThree Walmart stores, two Target trips and a partridge in a pear tree later, I have a bunch of new movies on DVD and Blu-ray; 6 pairs of pants for my husband that have to be returned because sizes aren’t consistent from brand to brand; a new shirt and nightshirt for moi; a couple of laptop accessories, and a Dyson vacuum cleaner that didn’t cost me a dime because my mom agreed to buy it for me for Christmas.

I must mention that the signage was terrible at most of the stores where I shopped. Kohl’s and Belk, where I bought those pants for hubby, didn’t have any of the racks marked with Black Friday pricing. I just had to guess at which ones were on sale. That meant looking for the brand names from the sale papers on the walls. I was only carrying my list, not the sale paper, so thank goodness I was very specific in listing the brands and the regular prices. Forget finding an employee to ask. Everyone I saw working was behind a cash register.

At Target #1, I went to the vacuum cleaner aisle and found the shelf tags with sale and regular prices, but they didn’t have any on the shelf. Fortunately I was able to find an employee there who checked the promotional end cap, the shelf, and the stockroom to make sure they didn’t have one somewhere else. That was around 10pm, an hour after the sale started. I arrived at the second store probably around 3am and found two of the sale model on the shelf, but they didn’t have any signage for the sale price. I freaked out a little, thinking that it was for a limited time; I even skipped looking through the DVDs there in my rush to get to a register and verify that I could still get the Dyson on sale. (By the way, I love my Dyson! More on that in a future post.)

At Belk, I was upstairs waiting in an interminable line when an associate or manager walked over and told some of us near the end that we could check out anywhere. He specifically mentioned the Bobbie Brown/Lancôme area. The other lady and I started off in the direction he waved toward. Turns out, he meant downstairs, not at all in the direction he was pointing. I spotted an elevator and got downstairs and was looking around, wondering if I would have been better off just staying in the line, when I saw a short line in jewelry. I stepped up behind the couple that was being helped. Another older lady walked up and asked if she could show me something. I said, no, I need to check out. She said, “We’re too busy to help anyone other than fine jewelry customers.” I was livid. I told her that a man upstairs told me that I could check out anywhere, and she repeated the same line. At that point, I spotted cosmetics and went over there where the girl was very quick and very apologetic about all my problems (jewelry bitch, long slow upstairs line, lack of signs, lack of staff to assist with shopping). She was really sweet.

Kmart seemed to be in the process of changing their sale signs while my mom and I were in the store around 11am. She picked out three turtleneck shirts on sale for $5 each. We looked carefully at the sign but it didn’t indicate that the sale ended at a certain time. By the time we looked through the rest of the store, the shirts rang up at 7-something each, and of course at that point, I couldn’t find the page in the circular, which I had taken in with me. Mom passed on the shirts, but I went back to the section and looked, and the sign had been changed to say “40% off” instead of a dollar price. Of course, the employee I spoke with didn’t care, but I would say that’s one of the reasons the Kmart chain is going under (well, that and the over-inflated prices when compared with any other mass merchandiser).

On Sunday, I went to Joann’s with a 60% off coupon from their sale paper. I wanted to get a cupcake/muffin pan. I had noticed some other Wilton products in their ad, but the cake pans weren’t advertised. The signs on the shelf indicated regular prices. I got to the register only to have the cashier tell me that I couldn’t use the coupon because it was already on sale. I didn’t ask what the sale price was, because I had a feeling it wasn’t anywhere close to 60% off. I just said, I can’t buy it without the coupon, and I walked away leaving the coupon, the pan, and a set of dollar knit gloves behind. In hindsight, I could have gotten the dollar gloves for 40-cents, provided they’d honor the coupon for that. It seems like every time I try to use a coupon at Joann’s, they have some excuse why I can’t. It’s really frustrating.

Walmart started a new sale at 5:00 a.m., and my second and third store visits of the day were to get some of the 96-cent DVDs. They had two different assortments. One set was mostly older TV shows packaged in blister packs. The other included some more recent movies in regular DVD packaging. “Jonah Hex” was pictured in the ad. I passed it up for $1.96 at Best Buy, but in hindsight, that would have been a better option, since I spent so much time going from store to store that I missed one of the items I wanted from Penney’s. At store #1, an electronics person was able to direct me to the box with all the blister-packed DVDs, but no one knew anything about the others. At store #2, one of the cashiers up front (about the fourth person I’d asked) tried to help me by locating a planogram, but it only pictured the “big ticket” items. Despite the fact that a dozen cashiers were standing around, a customer walked up to this girl’s register, so she stopped helping me to check him out. Another cashier told me she thought there were some movies “over on that side” which was the one area I hadn’t been in. So, I walked in a circle around the entire store looking for a sign or a large display marked “96¢ DVDs” but didn’t see anything. So, I asked yet another person who looked like management, and he said that they didn’t know what they were getting, what they had, or where it was. He started walking around with me, and he suddenly pointed out “Jonah Hex” in a small tray on top of another carton of promotional DVDs. I had not seen it before, but admittedly I was looking for a larger display. I didn’t notice whether it was even marked with the price, because I was in a hurry to get out of there.  I wonder if it had been unwrapped at 5:00 a.m. or earlier. I mean, if no one knew what it was or where it was, then how did they know when to open it up for sales?

Ultimately, I got most of the items I was after. I didn’t get the 40″ Toshiba TV from Best Buy, but since I didn’t camp out for three days, I expected to miss that one. I walked up to the $5 scarf table at Penney’s just in time to see someone grab the last one (blue – the color I wanted, too!) – and I blame Walmart’s incompetence for making me late to the store for that one.

I was at Best Buy at midnight, then went to Belk. After that, the stores were very quiet until I hit the Penney’s opening at 6am.

My observations and suggestions:

  • Quit doing the early openings on Thanksgiving Day. Stick to midnight and later on Friday.
  • Don’t spread your staff so thin, and maybe they’ll be better able to help people.
  • Make sure you have highly visible signs up indicating the sale items. If the sale ends at a certain time, the sign should reflect that.
  • Every register should be open to every customer, no matter what they’re buying.
  • Provide maps of where every sale item is located, not just the expensive items. Make sure every store employee has access to a list of what’s on sale and where it is in the store.

It’s fun to go out early to get special prices on things. It shouldn’t be a chore. It shouldn’t create bad feelings that will linger in people’s minds and hearts far after Black Friday. Employees shouldn’t be forced to work 12-15 hour shifts on Thanksgiving Day.

Some of the actors in “Star Wars” say that George Lucas had one standard direction for them: “Faster and more intense.” Since 1977, the world has continued to get faster and more intense every year. That has spilled over from movies to holiday shopping. Get people in the stores, keep them there or make them come back over and over. Promise them great items cheap, but only provide 10 per store. Allow the first four people in line to buy them all, if they want. Expect fights to break out.

Is it worth it?

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About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have three cats and a husband.
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