The 2013 Shoppers Apocalypse is upon us. My Christmas savings account was recently transferred into my checking account, as it is every October. It is my reminder, as if I need one, that my favorite day of the year is within reach. No, not Thanksgiving, but the mere hours after my family dinner. Note I said “hours after” and not the day after. Trends have changed over the past few years. There is no longer a cease-fire of charge cards and cash registers for a full 24 hours in order to have doors bursting at dawn the day after Thanksgiving. Nope, stores are now teasing impatient shopaholics on the day of thanks.
Every year, I am part of a group of eight very determined, highly trained retail warriors. Honestly, we are at the PhD level when it comes to super sales and cost-saving tactics. This group is comprised of best friends, nieces, in-laws, mothers and sisters. We have suited up every Black Friday for more than 15 years. The Dollar Divas hasn’t expanded its membership for one sheer reason: No one can hang for the 24-hour spree. The rules are simple: you must be able to not only collect your items but also help retrieve your shop-mates’ items in case there is an unexpected rush at her post. No children are allowed – nothing can slow you down more than a stroller or a minor who has had enough. This event is not for the faint of heart; if you do not have titanium patience and nerves of steel, stay home.
Traditionally, we meet around 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving to have dessert and comb over all the sales papers. Some of us tend to be very possessive of our sales papers, so most everyone brings their own copy. We lay out a blue- print of the stores, hours, our morning and evening routes, time line for each venue, and who is responsible for what items. It is almost impossible to get all the things you desire while working alone. I have stood in line for more TVs than I care to imagine, but it’s always for a good cause (shop-mate’s parent or child). At one time, I had a collection of unopened TVs and blu-rays that I simply forgot about because of home repairs. I had my own fire sale to clear out my Black Friday room to make room for this year’s sales.
Yes, I have a Black Friday room that is filled with my trophies (aka my prize buys). I am able to visit this room throughout the year for birthday, wedding and shower gifts. If it’s a good deal on Black Friday, it’s going in my cart and in my room. I am breaking the Dollar Diva covenant by talking about our tricks and tips for a successful shopping trip, but I have been bombarded with questions each year. ‘‘How do you get everything you want?’’ ‘‘How do you shop for sooo long without passing out?’’ ‘‘Why do you put yourself through such craziness?’’ My co-workers call me a ninja shopper yet eagerly await my tales of success the Monday after the holiday.
It’s the one challenge I truly look forward to all year. I’m good at it. I compare my shopping talent to that of any triathlete. From picking an even-wheeled cart, turning corners with precision and angling it as to not hit anyone to quick hands, and quicker feet to get to all the displays within the time slots allowed, I’m good at my craft and it was developed over years of practice, trial and error. I take pride in handling my stress and patience with grace and nonstop excitement. It’s delightful to meet new faces each year while in line or to see former opponents give you that smirk of respect as you pass each other with the same limited edition items in your cart. Yes, it is indeed a sport as well as the social event of the year.
These are just some of my personal tips that I adhere to each year, as well as alter to fit the situation. Retailers try to outwit me, but a determined shopper is a force like no other.
Tip No. 1: Never arrive at the store when the sale starts. It has been my experience the past three years that certain box stores are open at least four hours before the sale starts. They don’t advertise this, only the time that the sales actually start. Keep in mind, the lines start hours before. The days of people being trampled at the entrance are no more. Again, this has been my personal experience. I learned last year to go Thanksgiving afternoon and have your patience ready. It is always disheartening to see a rookie shopper show up at the exact time of the sale only to be greeted by an empty display table. Alas, I have been known to hand over my item with a stern piece of advice about showing up earlier next year. Rookies!
Tip No. 2: Get at least one cart. Do not think you can carry the one thing you came into the store for. I guarantee you will want far more than you have written on your list. That is my Achilles heel – I always venture beyond my list. Be prepared for a cart shortage. This is why it is important to have partners. Someone has to stand at registers, doorways or even the parking lot to grab an empty cart.
Tip No. 3: If your item is sold out or you are told they are all gone, go wait by the registers. Trust me, eyes are sometimes bigger than bank accounts. There is always a stack of hot items at the registers that need to be put back on the shelf due to overzealous shoppers who did not have the funds to purchase all they snatched up in the frenzy. Last year, I was able to get two of the hottest items just by waiting for the inevitable ‘‘your card has been declined’’ at the registers. It sounds harsh, but this is retail warfare. Cashiers are steadily putting items to the side for restocking, and you are free to grab them. (I send rookies to the registers if I can't part with the item they missed.)
Tip No. 4: Make friends in line. You never know when they may give up and hand you their placement number for an extra hot item. Even when the sales associate tells you they only have a certain number, stay in line. It’s guaranteed a few shoppers are not as determined as you and the line will shift drastically after hours of waiting.
Tip No. 5: Drive an SUV. I have had a two-seater for ten years and have had to rely on friends, neighbors and family members to answer my 4 a.m. pleas to come pick up my 50-inch TV, vacuum, and other over-sized purchases. This year I am prepared. I have my own SUV and it is cleaned up and out, ready for its own holiday stuffing.
I could provide you with plenty more of my specific tips but I will be divulging secrets that might hinder my own shopping success as well as put my shop-mates in harm’s way. It’s only a few days before Black Friday and this gal is giddier than an audience member at Harpo Studios during an Oprah’s Favorite Things episode.
I literally balled my fist up, white knuckled in the air, got out of my chair and did a happy dance when I read a financial report that discussed how retail stores have ordered 65 percent more electronics and twice as many tablets, computers and communication devices. Yes, it’s the little things that get me this excited.
At the end of the shopping tour, you might appear disheveled, glossy-eyed and partially mute, but you will have red check marks by your entire list of must-haves and a feeling of completion and success! Arm yourself with patience, courtesy and financial stability before donning your camouflage and comfy shoes. That will be your best weapon when trying to cease your desired items. I hope my tips have helped you. Oh, one last tip – if you see a mag-wheeled shopping cart and hear screeches of joy, get out of my way!
(The Dollar Divas – educated, professional, hard-working ladies – donate to local charities and food banks during the holiday season as well as throughout the year. This brings about just as much joy as unloading the goods at home after a 24-hour shopping spree.)