Monday, December 04, 2006

Black F-F-F-F-F-Friday 2006

2:47 AM

I’m freezing my ass off in a Circuit City parking lot in the city of Dublin, around the corner with probably 80 people in line in front of me. This TV better be here.

3:32 AM

I’m freezing my ass off in a Circuit City parking lot around the corner with probably 80 people in line in front of me and another 80 behind me. This TV better be here. I can’t feel my hands.

7:08 AM

Success! I am now the proud owner of a new 40-inch Sony LCD. I don’t know how to get it home, but I own it.

Here’s the recap:

First, for those of you who don’t know, Black Friday is basically a capitalist, marketing-driven Christmas for those on crack. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Since some marketing genius out there remembered

Beyond being very, very cold, it was an experience. I really haven’t been into Black Friday deals because they mostly involve limited quantities of merchandise, camping out for hours on end, dealing with crazy nutcases who will do anything for a deal, and the fact that I have a limited amount of disposable income. However, this year was an exception, since we’ve been talking about getting a new flat-screen TV (hey, if everybody else has one, why can’t we have one, too?). I’ll also mention that my dad has been talking about getting one, so…

What can I say? I’m a product of marketing and capitalism. Do I really need a new LCD TV? No. But, then again, my two 20-inch TV’s do not make a 40-inch TV, either. Beyond that, one of the TV’s was a gift from my buddy Don (who had originally bought it for his wife, Fiona, when they were in college), and the other TV was a recent gift from one of Kindra’s co-workers who was getting rid of it. So, of all the TV’s that we’ve owned, we paid for exactly ZERO. We’re due.

Anyhoo, I’d been perusing some shopping websites, looking at what the deals were going to be on Black Friday, and the word was that there was going to be a big push from TV manufacturers on LCD and plasma TV’s this fall. This was getting more and more appealing the more I read about it (note: abstinence is key. You don’t hear about it, you don’t “need” it).

The size I originally focused on was 32-inches, since it would fit nicely in our TV cabinet, and the deals that were out there would keep the cost at roughly $500. To be honest, the 32-inch LCD TV was really the deal of choice among stores, with a number of stores running deals on them: Best Buy, Circuit City, Home Depot, Staples, etc. The only issue was the brand. The two that I focused on were a Westinghouse TV at Best Buy and an Olevia from Circuit City.

I knew that I wasn’t going to get the best TV out there at this price, but an entry-level HDTV would suffice. I don’t have digital or satellite cable (yet), and I don’t have any HD devices (Xbox 360, PS3, HD-DVD, etc.). It was mostly about size. The only drawbacks to getting a TV from either Best Buy or Circuit City would be the limited numbers on hand, and the average reviews for both TV’s that were advertised.

I kept debating over the purchase, whether to sacrifice quality for cost, and couldn’t come to a conclusion. I must have looked at the ads fifty times each, when lo and behold, I came across Circuit City’s “unadvertised” specials (they were advertised on the website, and nowhere else). One of these unadvertised deals was a break on a Sony Bravia 40-inch HDTV for $1200. It wasn’t the best model, but it was a good model from a reputable company and got better reviews than either 32-inch TV I was looking at. The questions were, do we have $1200 to spend, and is it a good enough TV for the price?

Long story short, I decided on Thanksgiving to try and get the TV, despite the fact that I was in Danville at my parents’ place. Two drawbacks: 1) they have no internet connection at their house, and 2) if I had to go to the store, I’d have to figure out a way to get the TV home. Drawbacks, shmawbacks: 1) there is a Starbucks down the road, and 2) um, we’ll get to #2 later.

My first inclination was to try and get the deal online, since the Circuit City website switched over to Black Friday pricing at 5:00 AM EST, so that would only be 2:00 AM PST. Consequently, I headed over to Starbucks at 8:30 PM Thanksgiving night to double-check the connection outside of the store, and to see if I might snag them changing the prices early. No such luck with the price change, but I figured out that I could use the connection sitting in the parking lot, which was nice because it was in the low 30’s outside.

I headed back around 1:30 AM, but was worried about sitting in an empty parking lot and having somebody (read: the police), stop by and ask me what I was doing. So I drove around a while and ended up in the parking lot with my computer at 1:45 AM. Earlier in the day, I’d loaded the TV into my online shopping cart just to be quick on the check-out if I was to get the deal. The cost early in the day was $1699. When I launched the website, the cost came up the same at first, but after a couple of minutes, the price dropped to the Black Friday deal of $1199! Success!!!

Alas, it was not to be. I wanted to purchase online with in-store pick-up, but had set the zip code to my parents’ zip code, and not my home zip code. I quickly made the change and found the TV in stock at the Circuit City a mile away from my apartment. I clicked on the link for in-store pickup, and an error message came up saying that they could not verify the stock for the store. I quickly tried to get in-store pick-up at the other locations near my apartment, but to no avail. I think I ended up getting online as they were doing the changeover in the code for the website. Missed it by that much.

Now, those of you who know me would understand the battle that I was fighting within. Do I go home and forget about it? Or do I do the crazy thing and go to the nearest Circuit City and wait in line? Um, duh. I do the crazy thing, of course.

So I drove down the freeway to the Circuit City, getting lost once (my dad neglected to mention that the Dublin exit off 680 looks like the exit to 580). Eh, handy-dandy Google Maps on my BlackBerry helped me get to the right place, and I pulled in to the parking lot about 2:30 AM.

I hadn’t really thought this all out before I left the house, so all I was wearing was a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, jeans, and a jacket. FYI, sitting around in the dark on asphalt is COLD. Jump around. Jump around. Jump up, jump up and STAY UP. I thought I might be able to write this while I was waiting in line, but I couldn’t feel my hands after they were out in the cold for more than 5 minutes. Brrrrr. I know I sound like a wuss to those of you in the Midwest, but I live in California for a reason.

I was sitting between a lady who was waiting for a laptop for her 13-year-old son, and three college students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who were also looking for laptops, but who happened to know a guy who worked at this Circuit City. There was also a guy behind them who was a Black Friday veteran. He’d already started his Black Friday shopping at the CompUSA 9 PM to Midnight sale the night before (or a few hours before, I guess). I felt okay about where I was because I figured that not too many people were looking for a 40-inch TV, nor would they know about it.

All I was waiting for while in line was for the clock to strike 4:00 AM, because once you get inside of an hour, it’s all downhill from there. Around 4:00, the entire line all of a sudden stood up and moved forward. I can only assume it was because Circuit City employees started to show up in droves and head into the store. It was kind of nice to get some movement, not to mention that the line compacting itself left me about twenty feet short of the corner of the store – seeing the entrance means that you’re close.

Finally, after all the waiting, they started to let the line in. I think they let about forty people in at a time, and I was in the second forty. I got in about 5 minutes after the first person, so I was able to get to a cashier in the TV department and be the 4th person in line.

I was also on the lookout for a 19-inch LCD monitor for my parents, but wanted to make sure that I got the TV first. Fortunately, the Black Friday veteran I stood in line with outside knew that I was looking for one, and brought one by for me as I was waiting to check out. What a nice holiday story. Except for the fact that it was the wrong monitor (by no fault of his own). The ones that were on sale were the widescreen version, and he picked up two of the regular ones. I saw these monitors early in the week, and the only thing that really distinguishes the packaging is the word “widescreen” on the front. Oh well.

The last part of the story concerns the actual buying of the TV. I gave the cashier the item number of the TV, and it came up with the price of $1699. I asked him about the deal, and he said he didn’t know anything about it. Being the considerate shopper that I am, I decided to just purchase the TV and sort the issue out at customer service. I took my receipt over there, and after a few minutes of dealing with a young lady about it, ended up with a knowledgeable cashier who took the time to give me a refund amidst all the hoopla. Not only that, but I also got a free 3.2 mega-pixel Polaroid camera. Whee.

I then had to pull my car into the loading dock, when I saw two other guys who had bought two of the same TV I did, along with one of the advertised 32-inch TV’s. They had a Toyota 4-Runner they were trying to fit it all into. That’s when I fully realized the issue of sticking a box for a 40-inch TV into the back of the Toyota Corolla that Enterprise had rented me. I threw the idea of getting the TV into my car out the window and headed home to get my father’s new SUV (BTW, the damn thing still wouldn’t fit upright in the back of the SUV).

The downside of the Circuit City operation was that they really didn’t communicate how they were handling things. They didn’t hand out vouchers for some of the items you knew were going to be hot – the laptops and 32-inch LCD TV they advertised – and they were simply putting a lot of merchandise out on the sales floor. They did have vouchers for the hot items, but you had to get them once you were let into the store. They were gone by the time I got in (I think), but so were some smaller, hot-ticket items like flash drives. I saw a couple of people with baskets filled with twenty or thirty of the drives. Greedy bastards (of course, I’ll do the same NEXT year).

Oh, two more things…

My dad’s bringing the TV down next week. Yippee.

We got back home, and I realized that the TV is 38.9 inches in length. My TV cabinet is 39 inches wide. Hmmmmm. I KNEW there was a reason I wanted a 32-inch TV. This is like the time I told Kindra about a 46-inch projection TV that my friend wanted to give me, and she jumped at it. Of course, the thing was a monster in the house.