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Black Friday 2009: A Survival Guide

View Larger Map A) Boston B) Wrentham C) Sears D) Best Buy E) Target F) Walmart G) Emerald Square H) Staples I) Lowe's To me, Thanksgiving has never really been about thanks or giving. I tend to associate those more noble actions with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Indeed, the less admirable pastimes of food, family and football fill the voids in both my tummy and my heart every fourth Thursday of November. Given the holiday's decidedly dubious origins (even if that one meal was peaceful, we all know what followed.), I don't feel particularly bad about that. So when plane tickets skyrocketed and made a trip home to Georgia for Thanksgiving this year an impossibility, my wife and I knew just what to do. Two words, three syllables, one sleep-deprived night of retail madness: Black Friday. What follows is my plan for Thanksgiving and, more importantly, for the morning after. Though an amateur at the former, I'm an expert on the latter, meaning my itinerary can, and should, double as your Black Friday survival guide. I highlight the biggest and best deals at both the outlets and the retailers, I map the best route to all those bargains with staggered store openings in mind, and I offer insight on how to maintain a method amidst the mayhem while exuding an attitude of courtesy and good will, even if no one else does. Last year, a Long Island Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death by a mob of 200 frenzied Black Friday shoppers. Thankfully, most stores have altered their procedures this year to ensure that such dangerous crowds never form, much less spill through closed doors and stampede past only minimum security. That said, there will be waits, there will be lines and there will be temptations. On more than one occasion, you'll find yourself adopting a herd mentality, but you mustn't lose perspective. No deal is worth such selfish and inhumane brutality. Period. Now that the elephant's out of the room, no offense to Thanksgiving, but Black Friday is, somewhat ironically, perhaps your best opportunity at thanksgiving (little "t") this holiday season. Come Christmas morning, when your brother and sister open that Blu-Ray player and KitchenAid mixer you never could have otherwise afforded, you will have given thanks to them, and they'll be giving thanks right back. Days leading up to Thanksgiving Your first order of business is to reserve a Zipcar, assuming a) you don't own a car, b) you haven't already done so, and c) there are still cars remaining. Now is also the time to scan through circulars from all the major retailers and customize your itinerary to best fit your priorities. You can find ad scans and sale listings at a host of websites, but goes a step further both by alerting you when a product can already be bought online for less than its Black Friday price and by allowing you to compare a product's Black Friday price to that of current listings on eBay. I've done my best to focus on the deals that would most interest a twentysomething with a penchant for electronics, home goods and grilling as well as a modest amount of disposable other words, a rough amalgamation of the HBS student body. Before we arrive at the big day, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the crazies who camp out in front of Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy hours, even days, in advance of Black Friday, usually for severely discounted laptops in extremely short supply. Think iPhone launch day meets NFL tailgate. I don't mean "crazy" pejoratively, for I wish I had that sort of dedication to bargain-hunting and low-power computing. I only mention this curious subculture because I don't want you to roll into the Best Buy parking lot 10 minutes before opening time, waltz up to the front doors and expect to be first in line. Don't be that guy. Should you wish to participate in such extreme shopping, however, be my guest. Just know that you're entering unchartered territory. I've seen night turn to day and day to night all in a single shopping trip, but I've never camped out, and I certainly don't plan to this year. Day of Thanksgiving Here's where the preparation really begins. To get you through the next 24 hours with friends, family and your good credit intact, you'll need plenty of turkey, plenty of sleep and plenty of funds in the ole checking account. For me, that means Thanksgiving lunch at Upstairs on the Square followed by the nap of my life and a last-minute transfer from savings. I don't plan on eating again until Friday night - that's why I'm making my one meal count. Night of Thanksgiving 10 pm - Wake up (you were napping, weren't you?), freshen up and get your game face on. Be sure to dress warmly because lines often extend outside, some stores will cap the number of shoppers allowed inside at once, and you could very well be a ways away. That means comfortable shoes, too! 10:15 pm - Leave for Wrentham Outlets (your other options are Kittery, ME and Tilton, NH, both of which are within a 1.5-hour drive of HBS) 11 pm - Arrive at Wrentham and search for parking. Good luck! 11:15 pm - Line up outside your absolute favorite, if-I-could-wear-only-one-brand-of-clothing-for-the-rest-of-my-life-I-would-wear-this-one retailer. Because all stores are scheduled to open at midnight, a handful will actually begin letting customers in around 11:30 simply because they know there are tons of anxious nuts milling about in the cold with nowhere to go and nothing to buy, hoping to get a leg up on the competition. You want to be among the first few in line at the store of your choice. The second the doors open, casually file in - you know, like a civilized human being - then GO CRAZY! Black Friday Midnight - You absolutely must split up and act fast. This is the moment that could very well make or break your Black Friday as well as your relationships with those to whom you plan to give gifts this holiday season. Beeline straight to the section that best matches you (or the person for whom you're shopping), and grab everything that looks even remotely interesting.everything that doesn't outright offend you.everything that looks like you might want to even consider trying on, much less buying. This is especially crucial if you're a difficult size (I'm an XS or, all too often, a boys' XL). If you don't grab up the good stuff, someone else will! This isn't a communal affair. This isn't the time to get courteous. That said, family members, best friends or significant others can prove particularly useful in this first stage of the evening. Once your compatriots have horded their fair share, they can hop in line for the dressing rooms whilst sorting through their arm piles (you mean you didn't lift weights for this?), and you can keep "shopping" (read: pillaging) and join them when you're ready. At that point, be sure to team up in the dressing room if comfortable (and if allowed): this is your first of only a few chances all evening to be a decent human being amidst a flurry of ME, ME, ME! 1:30 am - Not that you were going to, but do not wimp out upon emerging from the dressing rooms. Depending on whether you tried on a ridiculous or a ridiculiculous amount of clothing, there will either be a line snaking throughout the store or a line snaking throughout the store and back out the door from whence you came. Do not panic! If you have companions, simply ask them to carry your load here, and you can carry theirs at the next stop (or vice versa). Just be sure you trust them and they trust you, as you'll likely be paying on plastic and reimbursing each other when all is said and bought. 2 am - When you (or your buddy) finally makes a purchase, be sure to mention whoever helped you (regardless of how much he or she actually did), and if no helped you, simply smile and say "You did!" when asked by the cashier. Some stores don't give commission, but some do, and those saints of employees deserve whatever thanks you can give them for working through the blackest of nights. Two years ago, my cousin-in-law worked Midnight Madness at a J. Crew outlet and swore that a co-worker locked himself in a dressing room and cried himself to sleep after hours of folding and refolding the same button-downs as shopper after shopper carelessly rifled through gingham and madras, paisley and plaid. Don't be that jerk who drives some innocent teen over the edge. Likewise, don't be that idiot who forgets to ask about a student discount. Many stores won't offer them when prices are already slashed so dramatically, but some will, and they can be as high as 20%. Just be sure to bring along your Harvard ID, as some employees are required to ask for proof. 2:15 am - Here's where you'll have to make a tradeoff depending on whether you're more of a clotheshorse or a gadget hound. If the former, the outlets could very well be your evening's only stop (attention mallrats: don't shy away from Emerald Square Mall - the outlets get all the attention on Black Friday, but you just might be surprised!), so take your time. If the latter, hurry through any other stores you want to hit up, then pack your bags and bust a move on over to Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart or Sears depending on which doorbusters you've been eyeing. The night is young! Look alive! 3 am - Now is an ideal time for those whose spirits are waning to grab a snack and settle in for an early morning snooze. My suggestion: join the line outside your major retailer of choice while your partners-in-crime hit the nearest drive-thru, then recline their seats to their hearts' content and catch some much-needed Zzz's in the crowded and (presumably safe) parking lot outside your chosen store. With luck, they'll wake from their slumbers just as you're exiting the store hours later with a new laptop, big-screen TV or insert product-you-could-never-have-otherwise-afforded here. Believe me - everyone benefits from such an arrangement. Do NOT drag along friends, and especially loved ones, at this stage of the evening. The outlets were different. There, you were waiting a half-hour for sweaters and purses. Now you're waiting an hour in the cold outside the store and (at least) another inside the store for more megapixels, more gigahertz and more terabytes. Some won't mind the difference. Others will. Much, much later - I'm not even going to try to estimate how long the major retailer and/or Emerald Square portion of your evening (er, morning) will take - too many variables, too many lines, too many sales. Like a postmodern Prometheus, I recall shuffling a giant blue box too heavy to carry yet too light to cart back and forth and back and forth, up and down every aisle of Best Buy for hours on end. I know only that I entered at night but emerged in the day with a killer headache and a $500 Harman/Kardon receiver for which I paid only $200. I didn't buy that new stereo because I needed one nor even because I wanted one.rather, because I knew I one day would. In the end, perhaps that's what Black Friday is all about. You certainly don't need this stuff. Heck, you might not even want this stuff. But some deals are simply too great to pass up, so get yours while the getting's good. The Biggest & Best Deals Best Buy's biggest doorbusters (will begin passing out tickets for doorbusters up to two hours before 5 am store opening): LG Chocolate Touch from Verizon ($0, with 2-year activation); Insignia digital camera ($50); Smallville DVD seasons ($10 each); Dynex 32" LCD HDTV ($300); Madden 10, FIFA Soccer 10, NBA Live 10 and NHL 10 on PS3 or Xbox 360 ($35 each) Best Buy's biggest sales: Compaq netbook with 160GB HD ($180); 13.3" Macbook with $150 gift card ($1,000); Logitech Harmony universal remote ($40); Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 21, The Dark Knight and Wedding Crashers DVDs ($4 each); 3 $10 iTunes gift cards ($25); Epson Stylus printer/scanner/copier ($25) Lowe's biggest sales (no doorbusters): Char Broil Quickset gas grill ($79); Char-Griller Super Pro charcoal grill/smoker ($99); Black & Decker 18-volt cordless drill ($70) Sears' biggest doorbusters: Kenmore 3-burner infrared gas grill ($300); NordicTrack elliptical ($400); Sony 32" LCD HDTV ($380); all Kenmore Elite appliances (25% off); New Balance and Asics running shoes ($30) Sears' biggest sales: Samsung Blu-Ray player ($150); Canon Rebel digital SLR camera ($570); select DVDs ($4); Kenmore 3-burner gas grill ($200); all handbags (50% off); Adidas, New Balance and Reebok athletic shoes (40% off) Staples' biggest early bird specials (6-10 am, limit one of each item per customer): HP 15.6" Windows 7 laptop ($299); 8GB SD and microSD cards ($15) Staples' biggest sales: Acer 23" LCD monitor ($140); Netgear wireless router ($35); Dell desktop PC with 20" LCD monitor ($500) Target's biggest doorbusters (while supplies last): Men's sweaters ($10); Women's 3-pc. pajama sets ($10); Chefmate coffeemaker, sandwich maker, toaster and slow cooker ($3 each); The Dark Knight DVD ($4); Apex 40" LCD HDTV ($449) Target's biggest sales: men's and women's fleeces ($15); Nikon CoolPix digital camera ($88); Sony Blu-Ray player with free $20 gift card ($150); WD 1TB desktop or 500GB portable HDs ($60 each); Emerson 8-bottle wine fridge ($60); Friends, Sex & The City and Weeds DVD seasons ($9 each); The Office, House and Gossip Girl DVD seasons ($13 each); 7" digital photo frame ($29) Wal-Mart's biggest doorbusters: Magnavox Blu-Ray player ($78); Hamilton Beach blender ($13); Emerson 32" LCD HDTV ($248); Sony Bravia 46" LCD HDTV ($798); Nintendo DS Lite ($98) Wal-Mart's biggest sales: Kodak digital camera ($69); TomTom GPS ($59); KitchenAid stand mixer ($139); Blood Diamond, Casino Royale, I Am Legend and Spaceballs DVDs ($2 each); Rock Band Special Edition on PS3 or Xbox 360 ($50); PS3 with 2 games & Dark Knight Blu-Ray ($299)

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