What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Deconstructing Black Friday

I was considering a lawsuit. I consulted my attorney and discussed the possibility with likely co-plaintiffs. I even drafted a letter of intent. But I think I have recovered sufficient sleep and wits to keep my claim out of the civil courts. At least for now.

The events of Friday, November 23rd - Black Friday in everyday parlance - will remain forever etched in my memory and in my pocketbook. It is a story I will use on many a date, a cautionary tale that will be sternly retold to my children and my grandkids will hear a heavily embellished version of it.

If only I had been forewarned.

FCN got a monitory email from You Can Call Me Batman on the 24th, just one day after my fateful encounter with the corporate world of electronics and just a few hours too late. YCCMB had this to say:

Dear FCN,
Memo to the file: never go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, because you WILL be eaten alive. Yes, those sales are very tempting, but unless you are willing to risk life and limb, you should stay at home cowering under your bed and not spend any money in the first place. I discovered this firsthand. It even started out painful! We (my mom, cousin, aunt and I) had to wake up at 6:45 (a completely unrighteous hour in the morning) though the stores were opening up at about 4 a.m. We started out at Walmart, and it was already a madhouse of people. Emerging from there with only a few scratches and bruises, we continued on to Joann fabrics, which was a really bad idea. We lost one of our company there due to the HOUR LONG WAIT to get our fabric cut. And that was only the beginning! By about 10:00, we ventured into Kohls, and were almost immediately suffocated by the amount of people in there. And to top it all off, the line wrapped around the store. Luckily, I was able to dust off my (horrible, but nonetheless valuable) Ninja skills, and we were out by about sundown. Most of our group was injured. We returned from our venture battered and bruised, but we had saved a lot of money, and that made us feel better. (except me, but I didn't have any money to begin with.) So, unless you are willing to die to get that one pair of jeans that's 80% off, never go shopping on Black Friday.
-You can call me Batman
If only YCCMB had contacted us with this advice a few days earlier, we might have avoided a frigid night on the hard cement and a difficult lesson on the trials of consumerism.

'Twas not Walmart, Joann's or Kohls that the FCN contributors and a few friends found themselves in front of, but rather BestBuy, a major electronics store with some of the most scandalous BlackFriday deals. Despite this difference, YCCMB's advice is still pertinent.

The newspaper advertisement, lovingly clipped by so many in preparation, told of discounts of up to six and seven hundred dollars on hot ticket items like big screen TVs, laptop computers and GPS devices. Because the deals are meted out on a first come, first serve basis, it behooves the consumer to arrive early.

In past years, BestBuy has announced its price and informed prospective customers that tickets would be handed out to the first people in line a couple of hours before the store's doors open. Last year, you may recall, I gave a couple of hours of my life to BestBuy and was compensated handsomely. I didn't actually purchase any of the items I stood in line for; rather I resold the ticket (scalped it, if you prefer the vernacular) to those who had more money than time.

The way I see it, my scalping activity provides a legitimate service. Certainly, middle men are not the most respected of enterprisers, but in the big picture they act as wards of Adam Smith, pushing the financial advantage of Black Friday to those who are willing to pay for it.

BestBuy's doors were scheduled to open at 5:00 AM on the 23rd. The first faithful shoppers got in line at 4:00 PM...on the 21st. We here at FCN value our turkey and stuffing too much to give up the warmth of a Thanksgiving fire in favor of a lonely line so FCN found its place on the cold sidewalk at approximately 8:30 PM, eight and a half hours before opening and after an estimated 120 people.

There is little to do in a consumerism line other than wait. We felt like children of the Soviet Union, joining breadlines for our daily fare. We experienced first-hand the rigors of communist living and counted ourselves fortunate to have thought to bring lawn chairs.

But not everyone was so miserable. The place immediately down wind from us was occupied by a few bong-hitting hippies who let the sweet scent of their Wacky-Tobackie waft over everyone. (I am amazed to this moment that those folks were so brazenly consuming illegal narcotics. The line was heavily policed to ensure that nobody did anything untoward, but not one officer stopped to ask about the smell.) Still others watched DVDs or played cards, keeping warm with expensive looking blanket-like coverings or seeming not to care about the weather.

Eight hours in 37 degree cold. Some in Massachusetts scoff at how wimpy I sound complaining about any temperature that far above freezing, but to me, a California-raised kid who worries more about his state's radical politics than extreme weather, 37 degrees might as well have been zero degrees. I bundled up like an Eskimo papoose, with gloves, thermal undergarments (yes, long johns) and a heavy jacket. I even wore a beanie (no, this isn't F).

As cold as we were, shivering against BestBuy's stuccoed wall, a warmth surged through our very being when blue shirted employees began passing out the tickets.

By the time they reached our place in line, the most valuable tickets had already been claimed, but, remembering last year' success, I selected a 42" LCD HDTV (read: really fancy and expensive television) and headed to the back of the line to begin my sales.

That's when Black Friday took a turn for the worse. On my way to the rear, I passed two would-be scalpers as they followed BestBuy employees to the front. I recognized them as scalpers by their sheepish looks and the half-hearted attempts to plea their case. Several of my friends, including both F and N, bailed and gave me their tickets. I now had the salesperson's greatest wish: variety.

I was undaunted by the busted scalpers I had just seen. I couldn't understand what they could possibly have done wrong. Maybe, I pensed, they were liars who tried to cheat prospective customers on the value of the tickets. Or perhaps they were being detained for an unrelated offense; their past crimes were catching up to them. Certainly their fate would not befall me.

When I reached a likely group of line dwellers - they reminded me of people waiting to board lifeboats on the Titanic - I began a series of pitches:

"42-inch widescreen high definition television as advertised. $499 instant savings. I also have 32-inch, 30-inch and the 40-inch DLP. Anyone interested in purchasing the right to buy this discounted TV? Do I hear any offers?"

I was explaining how the deal worked to an elderly gentleman who looked genuinely interested in purchasing when I noticed a blue-clad female behind me and to my right. She wasn't saying anything, but listened intently as I plied every trick of Cialdini. I had nothing to be ashamed of, so I continued to plow on. It wasn't until we were just about to exchange money that she intervened and asked me if I was selling my tickets. When I answered in the affirmative and asked if she was interested in buying one, she asked to see the tickets.

Her move was quick and reminded me of something I'd seen Chuck Norris do. Before I could say "fifty bucks" the tickets were out of my hand and traveling and a brisk walk to the front of the line. I followed, protesting my view that these were my tickets, earned through hours of waiting and that the act of taking them was a blatant violation of my constitutional right to property.

Her response was to direct me to her superior, Chris, a man I victimized with my further remonstrations. I explained that if scalping were illegal or frowned upon, that fact ought to be detailed along with all the other fine print in the ad (which I had meticulously read in preparation for such an encounter). I pointed to the rapidly disappearing tickets and asked Chris where they intoned that they weren't for resale. Finally, I pled with Chris to listen to the voice of entrepreneurial reasonability and reward a derelict's money making efforts with official sanction. I pointed out that my service was legitimate and that there was a clear market for my activity. Chris never answered me, but instead asked me to leave.

I have probably felt more violated at some point in my nineteen years, but I don't care to recall when. The reality is that I was totally deflated by BestBuy's betrayal. I had promised a couple of friends that this could be a money-making opportunity, I had placed my dignity and credibility on the alter and it had combusted with a bright flash before my innocent eyes.

Over the weekend, I thought long and hard about the possibility of pursuing legal action. I may very well have a claim for false advertising, fraud or misrepresentation. The doctrine of detrimental reliance might be deployed to show how BestBuy broke an implied contract with me and I am confident I could convince a small claims court judge of the justice of my plight.

I have at least a year until the statute of limitations expires and my claim is legally preempted. And I will consider the courtroom every time I drive by that store on my way to school. But for now I am going to leave well enough alone. The civic minded side of me says that my claim isn't sever enough to drag BestBuy into court. But then again...


you can call me batman said...

Sorry I didn't tell you sooner, I found out AFTER we went shopping. I am now finishing up my 4 day trip to the hospital, and doc says I can get out of the body cast (hopefully) by graduation.

Red Beard's Cousin said...

I can't believe you let them take your tickets man! As a veteran of something like 6 Black Fridays shivering in sub freezing temperatures outside Best Buy, I am appalled at your lack of backbone to fight the corporate demon that is BB!

If that had been me I would have used my (better than ninja) pirate quickness and snatched those tickets back! Then for good measure give that BB employee a good knock with my hook!!

Seriously though if that had been me I would have probably gotten carried away by the police, one for having a weapon as one of my hands, and two for creating a disturbance of the peace which would have been quite a disturbance if I was in your shoes!

Just so you know, the best way I have found is to keep the ticket and wait for the store to open. Then when the line starts inching in and after the employees head inside to quell a fight that has started over digital picture frames, sell them to the poor guy at the end of the line who gets there at 4:50 thinking he is going to be early and will be able to grab a laptop for his daughter. Works every time ;)

em said...

Never go to electronics stores on black friday...

Don't shop on Black Firday said...

htere are lines outside of Best Buy every weekend before Chistmas.