Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday Eve

I never thought I would wait in line outside a store Thanksgiving night to be one of the first people to shop on Black Friday Eve. I still don’t. But I’ll stand outside a store to watch other people wait in line, and doing so was more fun than watching midgets fight mixed martial arts.

Consumer spectation isn’t something I plan. It just happens. Tonight it happened because Laura and I drove by our nearby Target on the way home from spending the afternoon with Liz and Dave, and we noticed the store’s parking lot was packed. The hubbub of people and cars contrasted with the dark and quiet emptiness of the other businesses in the area, which were closed for the holiday. “Are people waiting to shop at Target?” I asked. Based on Laura’s questing for some coconut earlier in the day, we happened to know Target was closed for another half hour. Were people camping outside the store? What were they hoping to get? Why Target? Laura and I agreed that after getting home we would walk over to find out.

The line of eager shoppers standing outside the store stretched along the front of the building, wrapped around the corner, and tailed off in the loading area in the back. The first person in line arrived at six o’clock that morning—that’s fourteen hours before doors open. The man who gave me this information was himself eighth in line and had been waiting since eleven o’clock. He was waiting to buy a TV, and the store had twenty-two of the model for sell. Sure, he said, Walmart has as good or better a price, but over there you put up with chaos. Meanwhile, a Target employee walked up and down the line, half reminding and half pleading with shoppers to walk calmly and orderly once the doors opened, and employees inside the store huddled in the checkout area for last-minute instructions, their occasional backward glances at the crowd outside belying fear.

The doors opened. People filed in. Civility ensued.

The end of the line passed through the doors into the store eighteen minutes later. Assuming an entry rate of fifty people per minute puts the line’s initial size at 900 heads.

Most of the first shoppers to check out bought big items: TVs, music keyboards, bicycles, video game consoles, a ping pong table. Laura and I learned that the model of TV most coveted was a $200 fifty-inch LED with bad reviews online. I wondered who was twenty-third in line. Did anyone forget their wallet? Would any credit cards be declined?

Laura and I entered the store after the line passed through, and we walked a loop around the store, which by then had the noisy, crowded feel of a bazaar. People who had waited in line outside the store were now waiting in line inside the store to enter the electronics area. Curiously, not one person was grocery shopping. Laura saw a box of tie-dye cake mix, but that's a purchase for another day.