A tale of two Black Friday shoppers: Cyber shopper vs. Social shopper

By Lauren and Lori

Black Friday photoBlack Friday 2013 grabbed tons of headlines in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

Actually, it was Gray Thursday that had everyone gobbling. Retailers opened earlier than ever – some as soon as 6 AM on Thanksgiving – raising questions about how we best spend our time on this family holiday.  Because Thanksgiving was so late this year, there were fewer days between Turkey Day and Christmas than usual, putting the pressure on retailers to meet their numbers and consumers to complete their shopping on time.

We all know it takes a well-mapped out plan to navigate the holiday tasks of planning meals, decorating and shopping for loved ones. But for Lauren and Lori, two Susquehanna bloggers, those shopping plans couldn’t be more different.

Lauren – The Cyber Shopper

According to a Nielsen survey, 85 percent of American consumers said they had no plans to go out shopping on Black Friday. Contrast that with an Accenture survey that indicates 70 percent of 25 to 34 year-olds plan to shop in store on Black Friday.  I must be an atypical millennial because there’s no way I’m battling it out in a sea of people, freezing cold in the depths of night to score a great deal. I’ll score some great deals from the comfort of my own home, dressed in cozy polka dot pajama pants and fuzzy slippers, thank you very much!

I’m an online shopping enthusiast. A connoisseur of coupon codes.  A forager for free shipping.  Year round, about 75 percent of the things I buy are purchased online. Why waste gas and time when I can get free doorstep delivery with the click of a “Checkout” button?  So for me, Black Friday is no different than any other shopping day. I’m virtually getting the same deals at home – literally! And I’ll be asleep in a warm bed, purchases made, before you can say “Doorbuster.”

Here’s the play-by-play on a plan for online holiday shopping…

The week prior to Thanksgiving

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m almost finished with my Christmas shopping. I’m so adamant in my belief that I can get a great deal online, anytime, that I’ve done all of my shopping online in advance of Thanksgiving. Come December, I just don’t want to think about shopping madness. I want to make Christmas cookies and decorate the house and drive to see Christmas lights. I just don’t want to think about buying stuff.

IMG_6209Everything I bought so far was purchased at a discount. Almost all purchased with free shipping. Next week I’ll compare prices I paid with Black Friday deals to see how much I left on the table. In the meantime, I’m filling up shopping carts at some favorite stores to watch the prices fluctuate over the next few days. Many places are  offering at least 40 percentoff right now.

Back on Nov. 3, I bought a toy for my son for $38, and I feel like I got a great deal. It’s made  of tiny building blocks that you assemble to create a flying vehicle replica from a very famous movie that came out 30 years ago (hint! hint!), and it normally costs $59.99. I bought it online at a retailer that is famous for fast, free shipping on almost anything you could ever want. I’m interested to see how the price changes over the next few days, to see if buying early was a good strategy.

Wednesday, 11/27

6:30 AM

Time for a daily email check-in before leaving for work. I’m starting to get curious if any retailers will start telling me about their Black Friday deals. I’m observing an interesting phenomenon this year. At least five retailers have emailed messages about sales that start NOW and run through the weekend. So, you’re telling me your Black Friday prices are available now? This supports my theory that there is no reason to stand in a long line on Thursday or Friday to get 50 percent off. I can get it right now by ordering online. In fact, some of the deals I’m seeing are not as good as offers from last week. One retailer’s online store is 50 percent off everything. However, last week, the store was 40 percent off everything and an extra 20 percent off if you bought two or more things. Oh the games they play!

Thanksgiving Day

7:00 AM

To my surprise and delight, 10 pounds of newspaper dropped on the bed to start my Thanksgiving Day. I’m absolutely delighted to flip through the numerous catalogs and plot my future (online) purchases. The first circular I devour has quite a number of interesting deals, so I rip out the pages with things I’m interested in. Once that is complete, I grab my tablet, look all of the items up online and fill my shopping cart. All of the deals are available today, with free shipping and an extra 15 percent off. Easy and done, before I’m even up and out of bed for the day. I absolutely love shopping in my PJs!

9:00 AM

I’ve migrated downstairs to cook up a nice Thanksgiving breakfast, stopping to check my email every 15 minutes for the newest specials of the day. I saved $5 on a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Also looked up that toy I bought for my son a few weeks ago. The lowest price I see today is $43. After that, I think my shopping is done for the day. Time to relax and watch that parade!

9:00 PM

It was a long, delicious, glorious Thanksgiving Day, and I feel positively exhausted. I’ll blame it on the tryptophan as I prop my feet up on the coffee table, glad to finally be relaxed at home.  While my husband gets my son to bed, I’m sitting fireside, tablet on my lap, filling up my shopping carts for the impending midnight deals. Because of the early opening times at the brick and mortar stores, I suspect most Black Friday shoppers are probably parking cars or waiting in line right now. I know I would be much too tired to tough out an 8-hour shopping excursion right now. My shopping cart at my favorite store is filled up, and I know at midnight they will launch their Black Friday pricing. I wrote down the current price of all items in my cart so I can compare how they shift once the sale is on.

10:00 PM

Time for bed. Looking forward to getting two hours of sleep before midnight strikes.

11:00 PM

ZZZZZzzzzzz……

Black Friday

12:00 AM

Whoa! Where am I? Why am I awake again? It takes 10 seconds to get my bearings, since it isn’t everyday I’m waking up at midnight to do some shopping. I quietly grab my tablet and check that shopping cart. The website still isn’t acknowledging that it is a new day, so I impatiently refresh until the Black Friday site reloads at 10 minutes after 12. A quick comparison of yesterday’s prices to today’s deals show me that more than half of the items I selected were cheaper yesterday. Not quite what I expected! I scan the site again to see what items are marked down the most. It’s clear that if I am just looking for low prices, there are plenty of things to buy, but if I had my heart set on something specific, I should have bought it yesterday, or last week, for that matter! I make a purchase, but a much smaller one than I intended.

12:10 AM

I’ve moved on to another site, where they are offering $10 doorbuster deals. I move one to my cart and get a very strange message. I’ve been placed in some kind of queue. The screen is telling me I am “in line” and “don’t refresh the page”. I’ve never encountered this before, and all of a sudden I feel like I’m in line in a real store. All this waiting is making me very sleepy, and I wonder if it was even worth waking up early for this.

1:00 AM

I’ve had enough! I’ve made two purchases and wasted an hour of precious sleeping time. I also feel pretty odd shopping on my tablet in the pitch dark while my husband and dog are fast asleep next to me. Back to dreamland.

2:30 AM

I still haven’t fallen asleep yet, and I’m feeling pretty upset. I will not be doing this next year.

7:00 AM

I’m thinking I got about six hours of sleep last night. More, I’m guessing, that my inperson shopping comrades, but the whole endeavor hardly seemed worth it. Most of the things I purchased at midnight look like they are still available this morning.

It looks like one of the sites I like has some toys on sale today, but they only become available at set times throughout the day. I scroll through the day’s schedule and write down all of the ones I’m interested in. The first deal starts at 8:45 AM, so I’m going to test my hand at how quickly I can press the “Add to Cart” button once the deal goes live.

8:45 AM

Looks like I need some practice. I didn’t get to that deal quickly enough and lost out. However, trying to “catch” these offers is kind of fun. I try again and am successful this time! I find success three times and get a few birthday gifts for my son, and added bonus to my Christmas shopping efforts. These deals were only available online, as this retailer doesn’t have brick-and-mortar stores, so that brings a bit of satisfaction to my decision to shop exclusively from home.

10:30 AM

Ok, ok. You caught me. I did go to one retail store today – the hardware store down the street. Everything is 20 percent off today, and I’m only here at the request of my other half. I didn’t buy a thing. I won’t be able to say I didn’t go out at all on Black Friday, but it hardly seems like this should count. My husband Todd bought a few extension cords for the holiday lights, and while it is busy here, it isn’t overflowing with people.

Conclusion

Holiday shopping is off to a very strange start. Never before did I start shopping so early in the season (before Nov. 1st!) and never before did I feel like the best prices on things didn’t come on Black Friday. In case you are wondering, I checked in on that toy I bought my son and found that no one offered it for less than $42 all weekend, so my $38 score in early November was quite savvy, if I don’t say so myself.

If social shopping on Black Friday is your thing, by all means, go out and enjoy the experience. I hear this year the increased shopping hours made for a less “packed”, more leisurely shopping environment, which doesn’t sound so bad. However, I’ve never felt more adamant that online shopping is the way for me. I save gas, time and money by shopping online, and I got most of the same deals (earlier in some cases) as in-person shoppers.

My only strategy modification for next year is that I will skip waking up at midnight. Frankly it just wasn’t worth it, and I wouldn’t have missed out on anything had I just stayed asleep. What I would have gained was a more restful night’s sleep, which to this mother, is worth its weight in Black Friday gold.

Lori – The Social Shopper

Black Friday is a shopping tradition for me dating back to my college days.  The day after Thanksgiving, my mother and I would hop on a bus (yes, a bus), and head out for the King of Prussia Mall, which was about a third of the size it is now.  We would hunt for bargains all day long, stop at the Purple Cow Food Stand for a bite to eat, then drag our bags back on the bus and head for home.  For two women on a budget, Black Friday deals were a Godsend, and our excursion gave Mom and me an opportunity to spend some time together as well.

Lori blog photoFast forward 30-plus years: The purpose of Black Friday remains the same for me.  Now I share the day with my younger daughter, and for us, the social aspect of BF often overrides the bargain hunting.  You might say that BF turns us into BFs for the day!

Here’s a peek at our Black Friday experience.

Thanksgiving Day

7:30 AM

Husband visits the driveway to fetch the morning paper, which is the size of a small car.  It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for!  I quickly toss aside the news sections and separate the “shop tonight” ads from “shop later.”  Then, still dressed in my bathrobe, I grab a pair of scissors and a cup of hazelnut coffee and get to work, cutting coupons and making lists.

Paper-coupons – how old-school can you get?  In the weeks before Thanksgiving, I visited websites like BlackFriday.com and BFAds.net, but I was uninspired.  I tried time and again to make a list using online resources but got nowhere until that newspaper arrived.  Now I am focused!  I hope no one else wants to check out these ads since I have now chopped them to bits!  I use the ads to make my lists, (I love lists) organizing by store, item and coupon status.  Later, I’ll number the stores on the list according to business hours. Strategy is everything when Black Friday shopping.  I must plan the route that maximizes time and minimizes gas consumption.  This is so fun!  I can feel the adrenaline rush already.

One challenge is how to determine exactly when stores are open.  With the new early hours on Thanksgiving Day, some stores are opening for business Thursday morning or afternoon, then closing at midnight and re-opening early Friday morning.  I check store hours online and add times to my list.  I also attempt to access a voucher for a coupon booklet at one of our local outlet centers.  I begin this process at 7:30 a.m. and refresh the voucher request all day long.  Nothing but the error message: “due to high traffic they are unable to process my request at this time.”  Hmmm… I wonder if my cybershopping friends will run into this as they try to make online purchases.  I never did access the voucher.

10 AM– 8 PM

It’s all about Thanksgiving.  Stuffing, roasting, stirring, table setting, keeping my grand dog from yanking the tablecloth out from under the turkey day spread.  I have absolutely no interest in shopping on “Gray Thursday.”

8:00 PM

Load my purse.  A cross-body model is the only way to fly.  Coupons, lists and credit cards will be at my fingertips.  And don’t forget the phone, tissues and gum!

8:30 PM

Naptime!

9:30 PM

Nap is over! I pull my Christmas teddy bear turtleneck and Santa sweatshirt out of storage, add a jingle bell necklace and earrings and I am good to go.  I check The Weather Channel one more time to layer clothing appropriately.  Strategy: Throw a heavy coat and hat in the car, but try to do without if at all possible.  Bulky outerwear gets in the way in crowded stores, and also make you work up an unpleasant Black Friday sweat.  “Bethany, wake up!  It’s time to go!” I tell my sleeping daughter.

9:55 PM

On the road!  Strategy: Take the back roads to the outlet center.  On my first Black Friday midnight excursion, I made the mistake of traveling the main road.  Never again!

10:30 p.m.  Head for the parking area at a local high school, across the road from the outlets.  For just $5.00 you can park your car, support their girls’ basketball team and avoid the gridlock that is the outlet center parking lot!  Last year, when we arrived at 10:30 p.m., we snagged the last available parking spot here.  Much to our surprise, we found plenty of open spaces this time.  Hmmm… Where is everyone?

During a conversation with the volunteer collecting parking donations, a maniac in a compact car flew past us, ignored the donation collector and drove far too fast among families strolling toward shopping fun.  Slow. Down. Please!!!!  Both my daughter and I resist the urge to hunt down the scofflaw and make him (or her) pay for that spot!

First stop at the outlets: Starbucks to caffeinate and refine our strategy.  Fortified by hot chocolate and a cup of Christmas coffee, we head into the fray.

Except, there doesn’t seem to be much of a fray.  The outlet center is busy, but nothing compared to years past.  We may actually get some shopping done!  We venture into the candle store, where candles that typically set you back $27.99 are priced at 6 for $60.  What a deal!  While I don’t take advantage of this particular deal, a see several people carrying heavy flats of candles, smiling with delight over their newfound bargain!  Or, are they grimacing with pain because those candles are so heavy??? I do nab some smaller candles and Christmas shades.  I will not lie.  They are for me.  Now, how do I explain them to my husband, who rolls his eyes at the many bins of decorations already stored in the attic?  I know!  I’ll spirit them into the house, then “find” them when I unpack the bins!  Another female shopper grins and approves of that strategy.  She may use it herself!  At checkout I also purchase a discounted sample bag of candles.  Great stocking stuffers!

You make new friends when you shop on Black Friday.  I have witnessed very little unseemly behavior.  Rather, standing in a long line to pay for merchandise gives you time to chat with those around you.  You can pick up shopping tips, traffic reports, weather forecasts, even gift ideas.  At the candle store, a nice shopper set a young man straight when he planned to buy the wrong type of candle for his lantern.

Visits to clothing stores, shoe stores and sunglass stores follow our candle store stop.  We chuckle at the lineup of at least 100 people waiting to enter an upscale handbag outlet.  We steer clear of that store, and of the bath and body store as well.  The line is out the door.  Maybe later.

We don’t want to miss the gourmet cooking store.  This is one of the perks of Black Friday shopping – free samples!  We munch our way around the shop, sampling dips and pretzels and other yummy treats.  Our discounted gourmet food purchases will be added to special gift baskets for some folks on our Christmas list.  Oh, and I will not lie.  I bought a jar of buffalo cheese dip for me.

At the perfume outlet, we discover that a long-time favorite fragrance is no longer available.  So sad!  Later in the day I check online and find that I can indeed order that fragrance, at a discounted price and have it delivered to my door.  Yay!  See, I am a hybrid BF shopper.

2:00 AM

We have shopped and made some purchases and now it’s time to move on.  Typically we would head out to a local diner for breakfast, but this year a late Thanksgiving dinner is sticking with us, so we make a beeline for the mall.  Still so many items on our list to buy!  I hope the lines aren’t too long.  Along the way, we stop at a convenience store for more caffeine!

2:30 AM

We check my list and visit one of the large mall department stores,  Last year, the line at the register wound all the way through the store and discouraged us from making any purchases.  This year, there is hardly any line at all.  The selection is great, we check off many items on our lists, and spend no time at all waiting to pay for our purchases.  This is great!  We find the same situation at other stores at the mall, although we are somewhat frustrated that some stores have already closed for the night and will not open again until 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.  We hope to be gone by then.

4:00 AM

We are running out of steam and we are hungry.  Instead of breakfast we grab a slice of pizza and a burger at the Food Court and then we head for home.  On our way, we see a crowd lining up at an appliance store.  Good luck! We find that everything we see, hear or talk about is hilarious!  I think we might be just a little bit tired.  But our shopping trip has been successful. We made use of some of my coupons, and we even received more coupons to be used on future purchases.

5:00 AM

Time for bed.

Friday 8:30 AM

Time to wake up!  Apparently three hours sleep will be plenty for me, because I am wide awake and ready for round two.

10:00 AM

I caffeinate yet again and buzz over to a discount store where shoes are buy one get one free and pillows are on sale as well.  The store is a little busy, but manageable.  I smile because the shoes I buy are identical to a pair I saw last night that cost $40 more!  I LOVE a bargain. My other daughter calls to report that the lines I feared at the department store last night are now a reality.  So glad I’m not there!

1:00 PM

Daughter calls to ask if I will meet her at a clothing store where everything is 50 percent off.  EVERYTHING!!!!  I grab my credit card and take to the road!  We have a great experience, stocking up on gifts for ourselves and others, not minding at all that we must wait in line for 30 minutes to pay.  Definitely worth the trip!  One advantage of shopping in person is being able to see and touch and try on before you buy.  Those options were definitely important at this store!

Later in the day, I visit a local drug store to purchase Christmas lights.  I bring an array of store coupons, and I am returning an item, so at the register, I pay nothing for $50 worth of Christmas lights, and I receive a $10 store coupon to use toward a future purchase. Score!

Conclusion

Black Friday shopping was very different this year.  Less frenzy, fewer lines, fewer people.  And you know what?  I missed all of that.  My daughter and I still had lots of fun together, and I’m sure we will do it again next year, but it just wasn’t the same.  We did, however, do a bit more shopping than we might have in years past, simply because it was a little less crowded.

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