Handling Black Friday Like a Geek

Thanksgiving (US) is quickly approaching.  You probably have your own customs and traditions: the food you eat, the people you gather with, the TV you watch (Aww!  The marching band is clearly freezing, bless their little hearts!).  However, I realized there’s another Thanksgiving tradition, a fairly recent one, that is actually tailor-made for the skills of geeks.  Yep, I’m talking about Black Friday.

Why give it a try?

For years, I scoffed at Black Friday.  “Why would I stay up all night just to get a deal on a toaster?” I’d say.  “Thanksgiving break is about sleeping in and being lazy!”  Then I graduated college, became an adult, and had my own household wares to buy.  Suddenly, paying two dollars for a toaster seemed like an amazing idea, especially if I wanted to get the new Rock Band.

With today’s economy, any deal is attractive, but I can particularly see the allure when it comes to holiday gifts.  Why spend $15 for a toy for one of my nephews when I could get it for $5?  If I had kids of my own, you can bet I’d be hitting up places like Toys ‘R’ Us.  So far, I’ve only tried more generalized big box stores – WalMart, K-Mart, Target, etc.

The skills are all there

Who here hasn’t gone to a midnight launch of something – concert tickets, a video game, a book release?  Geeks are pros at waiting in lines.  And if the crowds get rowdy, well, that’s nothing a seasoned concert-goer couldn’t handle.  Remember – solid footwear!  With laces!

Honestly, though, the Black Friday craze appears to have died down in the last few years.  Stores are better able to anticipate and handle the crowds.  Instead of letting people run wild through the stores, there are tons of intricate queue systems for the big items.  Which is where the geek skill really comes in: it’s important to…

Strategize!

Going to Black Friday is not unlike going to a convention.  If it’s your first time and you’re unprepared, chances are you’ll wander around aimlessly, maybe stumbling onto some good deals, but potentially missing out on the reason you were interested in coming in the first place.  Last year I waited in line with my mother for a TV to replace one from the early 90s.  The store technically opened at midnight, I think, but when we arrived we found out they were letting late-night shoppers in and just letting them hang around early before the midnight “launch.”  First lesson – find out what the policy will be for the opening time!

Since we wanted a big-ticket item, first we had to get in a massively long line designated for the TV.  After awhile, we were counted and marked off on a clipboard.  In theory, if we’d made it this far we might get a TV, based on the number they had in stock – but since there was no item limit, it was possible someone could buy 20 of them.  After some more waiting, we were eventually given the Golden Ticket – a wristband that meant that when the TVs actually became available, at 5 am, I could wait in yet another line to get one.

At that point, it was only one or two am.  We could go home and sleep, or we could peruse everything else.  We decided to stay, since we weren’t sure we’d wake up and come back if we left.  The biggest deals were probably the DVDs – tons were purchased, many for only one or two dollars.  Rather than have everything picked over in the first hour, the store employees brought the merchandise out in waves, restocking every hour or so.  My sister, mother and I found ourselves stalking the employees with the boxes that we knew contained DVDs, looking for that elusive movie we saw in the ad.  Lesson two: scour the ads, know what you’re looking for, and try to figure out what to expect with the queue system.

Be flexible

It’s possible that the big-ticket item you wanted will sell out early, or that the crowds will be way more than you’re willing to deal with.  In cases like these, it’s good to be prepared with a Plan B.

Based on a previous Guitar Hero launch, we knew that K-Mart was not the store that would be swamped right at midnight, so it was our Plan B.  We knew what that store was offering, too, and what we’d be interested.  As it turned out, we didn’t really need our Plan B, but after the successful purchase of the TV, we headed over, hoping it wasn’t entirely picked over.

As it turned out, our hunch was correct – the K-Mart was busy, but not overly so, and there was still plenty of merchandise to be had.  We wound up buying a microwave for a ridiculously cheap price for a sibling who seems to go through electronics and appliances like candy.

Know Thyself

I’m probably misquoting her, but my mother always used to say something along the lines of: “When it comes to charity, you either spend money or time.  If you don’t have money to donate, you can donate time.”

It’s kind of the same when it comes to shopping.  If you don’t have much money to spare, it’s entirely worth it to wait all night to get a TV for less than half the price.  However, if you’re naturally an introvert who gets sapped by large crowds, well, it might be worth spending the extra cash.  And then, like almost everything that involves social interaction, there’s an alternative…

Go Geek

There’s always the internet!  And now, it even has its own version of Black Friday: Cyber Monday.  The Sunday night after Thanksgiving, be prepared to once again stay up late – but this time, from the comfort of your own home.  In your pajamas, perhaps with hot chocolate.   And you can wake up, make your purchases, and go back to sleep if you wish (remember to sleep-shop responsibly).

So whether you like the thrill of the hunt and late-night, slap-happy camaraderie, or the comfort of your bunny slippers, there’s a shopping deal for you.  Just bear in mind that no matter what you choose, remember to approach it like a geek – go for maximum efficiency and plan ahead!  Your wallet, and your sleep-deprived body, will thank you for it.

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