TWICE On The Scene: A Black Friday Journal

By Alan Wolf and Steve Smith On Dec 4 2006 - 8:00am

In pursuit of a first-hand account of Black Friday (and, let's be honest, the chance to snag a great bargain or two), TWICE hit the bricks the morning after Thanksgiving along with tens of millions of Americans. Here's our report on what's become an annual holiday ritual:

2:00 a.m.: Store personnel arrive at a suburban Best Buy in Central New Jersey. A queue has already formed outside the entrance, the first on line having arrived the afternoon before.

3:00 a.m.: The line is now about 200 strong. Sleeping bags, lean-to's, folding chairs and empty coffee cups are strewn about. Unlike past years when mostly teens and college kids braved the cold, baby boomers are well represented this morning.

Among the latter is a middle-aged mom who was driving home from a distant Thanksgiving dinner and decided to pull into the parking lot. Her goal: a $250 Toshiba satellite notebook, one of several "unadvertised specials" that she wants for her daughter, who's asleep in the car. "This is the first time I'm doing this," she says. "I'm hoping to get a good deal on something I wouldn't buy otherwise."

Standing next to her is another first-timer, a forty-something dad who also wants the Toshiba for his daughter. "I couldn't justify spending $700 on a 12-year-old, and I can't give her just a laptop and nothing else," he said. Would he do this again next year? "We'll see."

Their queue-mates include a teen and her dad, on line for a 15-inch Advent LCD TV ($130) for grandma and a $15 Motorola Bluetooth headset for herself, and a student who wants to buy an unspecified iPod for his girlfriend.

4:00 a.m.: "Blue shirts" begin handing out tickets for limited supply door-busters and to advise shoppers on product locations and availability. The Toshiba dad takes a ticket for a 42W-inch Westinghouse LCD TV, sale priced at $1,000. The line now stretches past the building to the strip mall's main entrance, about 100 yards away. Police from multiple jurisdictions arrive to monitor the situation, although the crowd is orderly.

5:00 a.m.: The doors open, the crowd trundles in, and controlled chaos ensues. Numerous queues for various products snake around end-caps and up and down aisles.

7:30 a.m.: The first wave of shoppers dissipates, giving store services manager Frank Baeli a chance to chat with a reporter. This is his fifth Black Friday with Best Buy, he says, which helps explain his coolness under pressure. Indeed, spirits run high for him and his team, which has rehearsed this day in dry runs. Aside from the larger crowds, was anything unexpected? "Nope," he smiles.

1:30 p.m.: Best Buy's "7-hour special" sale ended 90 minutes ago but every spot in the parking lot of the Astoria, N.Y. store is filled. Observers have "never seen it this crowded," owing perhaps to the fine weather and even better prices, and sales volume is already nearing the million-dollar mark, a supervisor says.

Asked about availability on the 42W-inch Panasonic HD plasma, which earlier in the day sold for an unprecedented $1,000, the supervisor says "That's impossible. That's obliterated. None left."

2:30 p.m.: Most of the action at a nearby P.C. Richard & Son is centered at the back of the store where the HDTVs are displayed, including a 46W-inch Sony Bravia LCD TV, advertised for $2,000; a 50W-inch Sony Grand Wega LCD rear projection TV, advertised for $1,300; and a 50W-inch Toshiba DLP advertised for $1,250.

Traffic is brisk, but Bruce, a 15-year salesman with the chain, says the store is expecting another large wave after 5:00 pm as workers return from their jobs. He recalls how the queue was already "outside the parking lot and down the street" by the time he arrived at 7:00 that morning. "I never saw anything like it," he says.

How Low Did They Go?
ABC WarehouseCanon MiniDV camcorder$155
Amazon.comXbox 360 core system$100
American TV & ApplianceZenith 50W-inch plasma HDTV$1,688
Best BuyPanasonic 42W-inch plasma HDTV$1,000
Boscov'sHaier 15-inch LCD HD-ready TV$170
BrandsMart USAPanasonic 42W-inch plasma EDTV$899
Circuit CityOlevia 32W-inch HD LCD HDTV$475
CompUSAXbox 360 core systemfree***
CostcoVizio 42W-inch plasma HDTV$1,000
CVS/pharmacyCoby DVD player$20
Electronics ExpoAudiovox 42W-inch plasma HDTV$944
Five BelowGoStereo portable speakers (iPod compatible)$5
Fry'sOlevia 37W-inch HD LCD monitor$697
GameStopXbox 360 w/game and 1-yr. replacement coverage$400
hhgreggToshiba 42W-inch plasma HDTV$1,000
Home Depot32W-inch LCD HDTV (indeterminate brand)$478
J&R Music WorldWestinghouse 37W-inch 1080p LCD monitor$800
JCPenneyViore 20-inch LCD HDTV$300
KmartSylvania 20-inch direct view TV$70
Micro CenterAcer Aspire notebook (512MB/60GB)$200
P.C. Richard & SonSony 42W-inch Grand Wega LCD RPTV$877
Pep Boys AutoMintek portable 7W-inch DVD player$50
Plesser'sHaier 42W-inch plasma HDTV$999
RadioShackMotorola GoPhone prepaid handsetfree
Rite Aid PharmacyMemorex DVD player$15
Ritz Camera & ImageNikon CoolPix L4 4 megapixel digital camera$100
Sam's ClubVizio 46W-inch LCD HDTV$1,650
SearsToshiba 42W-inch DLP RPTV$1,000
Sixth Avenue ElectronicsJVC 52W-inch LCOS RPTV$988
ShopRite supermarkets(Wakefern Food Corp.)Venturer 17-inch HD-ready LCD TV$190
StaplesSamsung 20W-inch LCD computer monitor$180
TargetTrutech 19W-inch HD-ready LCD TV$179
Toys "R" UsCoby 1 GB MP3 player$30
WalgreensAiptek flash memory camcorder/camera$60
Wal-MartRCA 52W-inch CRT RPTV$474
*Lead items in Black Friday circulars and unadvertised early bird specials
**Price after rebates, rounded to nearest dollar
***With purchase of any unadvertised TV $1,800 or higher
Source: TWICE market research ©TWICE 2006

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