Two Best Buys, One Wal-Mart, one Fry's and A Lot of Coffee
I now know what the end of civilization will look like. Parking lots packed with cars in the medians and fire spaces. Shopping carts stacked in front of entrances as makeshift barricades. Hundreds of frantic people, queuing up in ragged lines for a shot at the scarce, precious resources inside. Odyssey
Post-turkey lethargy and the promise of leftovers are the only reasons every Black Friday isn't an absolute blood bath.
As it was, the line in front of the Toys 'R' Us was enormous, sweeping back across the front of two adjacent buildings and around the side of one. They were just beginning to move inside when we arrived, a herd of cash-choked holiday shoppers eager to get their Black Friday out of the way in time for a long winter's nap.
I headed around to the Best Buy, where a smaller crowd of much more dedicated shoppers had gathered. There were less than fifty people by the time I arrived. At least three of them were in tents, and most of the others wore lined sleeping bags to fight off the cold front. For a crowd of gadget buyers, I noticed very few shiny toys. Most people had smartphones, and I think I saw a Kindle, but there were no iPads or notebooks evident. Perhaps this miserable night is these people's gadget-less purgatory before tomorrow's Nerdvana?
I made my way through the line and talked to a few eager customers. The hot items of the night? The $130 monitor and the $299 laptop deal.
There were even a few couples. I wonder if they count this as a date?
I visited two Best Buys in total, the second with nearly a dozen tents. Store #2 was in Plano, where people were less willing to be interviewed on camera. I talked to several of them. Televisions- specifically the 42" models, were more popular here. One person wanted a Kinect, but the big TV and laptop deals were definitely on the forefront of most shopper's minds.
We visited a Wal-Mart next. Things were much more organized this time than they had been in 2009. Different sections of the store were roped off and designated as the line areas for different doorbuster deals. One line for the 42" HDTV, one line for the Wii + TV deal, one line for the Blu-ray players, etc. There were also balloons with prices printed on them floating above certain pallets of products.
My last stop of the night was a Fry's in between Plano and Dallas. This had the most dedicated line-sitters yet. I counted twenty-two tents, many of them large, family-size affairs with three or four people people each. These folks were the nerdiest customers of the night. Most of them were looking to build or upgrade their computers. They had specific parts in mind, but were open to deals on displays and new hardware.
The long-term lines seemed to be having much more fun than the folks at Toys 'R' Us or the shoppers at Wal-Mart. At both places, the focus had been on the shopping. Get in, get the deal and get the hell out. Or get another deal.
But shopping was still hours in the future for everyone in a tent. And they were enjoying themselves. Movies, laptop gaming, board games, I think I smelled liquor a few times...it was a night out camping, but with the promise of really cool toys in the morning.
And with most of the people I spoke to, the focus of the night really wasn't the product they planned to buy. It was a break from the norm, something to make the big seasonal shopping trip into more of an Event. The people out here weren't stupid, they knew the big doorbuster deals would only go the first dozen or so customers. For the most part, their purchasing plans were small.
A new laptop, a new monitor. Maybe a small HDTV. Something useful and discounted, with a novel urban camping experience to go along with it.