At six in the morning last Saturday I pulled myself out of bed, gulped down a gritty cup of coffee, and made the long drive out to a Best Buy in Ft. Worth. I don't usually hang out in big-box retail outlets while it's still dark outside, but today was a special day. Black Friday was coming up, and the sales team at this store was doing a dry run to prepare for the retail equivalent of the Normandy landings.
I've spent my fair share of time working in retail, and I know what Black Friday sales can be like. Eight hours straight of customer after customer, with no real breaks or lulls in between. A constant steady stream of humanity pawing at your merchandise and demanding your attention. I get the cold sweats and a stress headache just thinking about it.
When I arrived at Best Buy, the managers were just starting to corral everyone together for the practice run. Half of the employees (there looked to be over a hundred of them in total) would play the part of customers. Each of them had been given a sheet with a series of gifts to look for. The other employees would stay in the store and help the crowd of 'customers' find their products.
The 'customers' filed outside, the employees took their positions, and the dry run began. The store entrances slid open and a press of faux-Christmas shoppers ran in. I took a moment to recover from my own Black Friday flashbacks and followed the 'customers' into the bowels of Best Buy (see also these photos from the dress rehearsal).
Most of them seemed to group up around the mobile phones, video gaming, and television sections. I gathered that those were the sections of the store that management expected to be most crowded on Black Friday itself.
After the drill ended, I walked around the store and chatted up all of the department heads. I wanted to find out what the people who actually sell fancy gadgets for a living think is going to be a hot Black Friday seller.
Dynex HDTVs are expected to be hugely popular on Black Friday. Best Buy has several awesome deals on these HDTVs, including a $299 32" and a $499 40". Customers look for flat-screen HDTVs in increasing volume every year, and the budget models are expected to be huge this holiday season. Any sub-$500 HDTV is going to sell out fast.
Over in mobiles, the iPhone is again expected to be the holiday season's biggest seller, trailed closely by the Motorola Droid. The mobile phone dept. head told me that the iPhone is always their big seller, but that Android phones like the Droid were doing better and better. The HTC Hero and Samsung Moment for Sprint have both been discounted for the holidays, and their sales have picked up accordingly. Both devices are expected to sell well on Black Friday.
The gaming department had some surprising news for me. Xbox 360 sales have apparently been down for the last month, while Wii sales have started to pick back up during the same time. The department head expected this trend to push into the holiday season. If you want to grab a Wii bundle this year, (and grab a $25 gift card with it) you should plan on getting there early.
In the PMP department, the 8 GB iPod touch has been the big seller for the last few weeks, and is expected to sell in volume during the holidays. Zune HD sales for the store I was at were described as 'disappointing'. If you're interested in buying one of those this holiday season, you can bet on it being in stock. The FLO TV, however, is expected to sell out fast. Just another reason to be first in line on Black Friday.
The camera department head took me immediately over to the Flip Ultra and Ultra HD cameras. They've been selling like hotcakes lately, and every Christmas season this family of camcorders sells out faster than they did the year before. She also told me to keep an eye on Sony's Flip clone, the Webbie. In conventional cameras, anything that sells at around the $100 price point (the Canon Powershot and Nikon Coolpix families) will be popular.
My last stop was the PC department. Windows 7 netbooks, especially the $230 and $280 ones have been hot sellers. Anything under $300 is going to sell out fast, so be sure to shop early. In laptops, the mid-range, sub-$500 devices are the big sellers these days. This year Best Buy is offering a 4 GB RAM, 320 GB HD, Intel Core 2 Duo processor, HP notebook+printer bundle for $550. It's expected to sell like hotcakes.
For all of the really hot deals this year, shopping early is going to be key. Getting up at four or five in the morning to go shopping sucks hard, as does dealing with Black Friday traffic. But both are immeasurably preferable to paying as much as 20-30% more for your gifts. If you want to make the most of your budget (and in this crappy economy, who doesn't?) Black Friday is your best option.
Don't Miss: See the first leaked Black Friday 2016 Ad
Come this Friday, I'll be out at 3:00 AM with the most dedicated holiday shoppers. Stay tuned to our Twitter feed and keep watching the site for updates on hot deals, products that sell-out, and how much coffee one tech writer can drink before he snaps and runs off to the mid-west to live a simple life with the Amish. Visit the Best Buy site for the latest offers. More Black Friday News.