We have a love/hate relationship with Black Friday in our house. Each year rolls around with fresh deals and the promise of finishing all of our Christmas shopping in one frenzied night. If only it were that simple...
My (Brad) Black Friday relationship began many years ago as a fresh faced, high school aged, employee of Best Buy store #836 in Montgomery AL. Our family was celebrating Thanksgiving in Ohio and as soon as the dishes were done we packed up and hit the road back to AL. We drove through the night directly to the front door of Best Buy where I threw on my blue polo and stumbled towards the media department. We all worked 8 hour doubles that day with a 4 hour break in between. Lines wrapped around the store, cheap gadgets were purchased, and the energy was electrifying...until my shift was over and I hit the bed running to sleep off my first Black Friday exhaustion. Little did I know this pattern would repeat for many years to come.
The first Black Friday I spent with Allie's family was full of great food, a house full of family laughing, and new traditions. When the dishes were all clean, the Black Friday ads were pulled and placed in the middle of the table for everyone to inspect. I began to flip through the shiny pages, but Allie and her mom inspected them for hidden deals and planned their expedition like Nic Cage in his upcoming movie: National Treasure- The Curse of the Cheap Trinket. There were spreadsheets involved with price comparisons, aisle numbers, mileage between stores, and a timeline that rivaled our wedding day's. This was no child's play. This was an all night hunt for the perfect deal. I began the night as an eager participant with a list of tasks for each store and ended the night as a blurry eyed placeholder in the store long lines. We left the house around 10 PM for midnight openings and arrived home around 10 AM with 98% of our Christmas shopping for the year done.
Our passion for Black Friday has slowed in recent years. The deals haven't changed and we've already purchased the best of the best and the opening times have gotten earlier and earlier so we've spent most of the past few years at home or venturing out for 1-2 items at the most. This year, our TV was on the fritz (or so we thought, we just needed a new HDMI cable), I was in need of a small laptop for travel, and Allie was hoping to snag a Shark vacuum for a fraction of it's normal price. So, like every other year, we checked the ads and to our surprise Walmart had a killer deal on a 55 in TV ($298!!!!!) and a spectacular price on a Chromebook! We'd only have to stop at one place, the deals started at 8 PM so we wouldn't have to be out late (sleep was gold with a 6 mo old), and my brother and his wife were excited to tag along. This was going to be a blast!
We entered Walmart and immediately got swept up into the spirit of the night. We b-lined for the electronics section to find our two diamonds in the rough, after a quick search we asked an employee where we might find our two items. He recommended checking the gardening section....for electronics. We'll never understand Walmart's organization on Black Friday. We power walked to the East end of the store and asked the same question. This employee recommended checking the frozen foods...y'all. Really? We power walked past the electronics again to the West end of the store and began snaking the aisles of the grocery section. I asked several clueless employees along the way about both items and no one had a clue. Finally next to the frozen pizza stood a man, in a vest, holding a clipboard. He looked semi-important so I asked one final time, "Do you know where I can find the 55 in 4K Phillips TV?" He told me I was in luck! He was the keeper of the TVs. He handed me a bar code and instructed me to pay at the register and then drive my car around back to pick up the TV. I was so excited! We'd done it! Only two items left.
We walked past a long line of customers waiting for something special in the frozen foods, still looking for the Chromebook. Nothing is labeled on Black Friday, things aren't placed in a specific location and change hourly, employees are clueless, and all items are displayed on generic pallets that can be easily moved by fork lift. It's like finding a needle in a haystack. A nice gentlemen overheard me asking about the Chromebook and mentioned that near the milk there was a cart of "lost children" items that were mismatched and out of place. He thought he'd seen the last Chromebook and urged us to hurry. We again power walked to the back of the store where a mass of people were huddled around a single cart. We pushed to the front and there it was! The last Chromebook in the entire store! I snatched it (politely) and power walked away triumphantly! If only we had worn our Fitbits on this evening.
One more item to go.
Allie's vacuum was the easiest. There was a huge stack of them in the frozen meat section and an employee pointed us there easily. No lines, no lack of inventory, and the perfect price. We threw one in the cart and headed to the register to pay.
After paying, we drove our CRV around back to pick up the TV. While driving, Allie casually mentioned, "What if the TV doesn't fit". I've yet to mention in this story that we'd made the 10 hour drive to Nashville to be with my family so we weren't exactly local. Our CRV came packed to the brim with a weeks worth of clothes, baby apparatuses, and Christmas presents for family we wouldn't see the next month. Not exactly 55 in TV ready...My attitude is always "We will make it work" so we kept on driving. As the employees carried out the TV I opened the trunk. Upon seeing the box size, I immediately knew we were in trouble. I folded the seats in hopes of putting the TV in vertically, no luck. We ended up laying it flat for time's sake and it took up nearly the entire back of our car. Something was going to have to give, but we were so excited!
After sleeping on it, we woke up the next morning with a plan. The box was actually a few inches taller than necessary so we trimmed the excess with a box cutter, 100% guaranteeing there would be no re-stocking this TV. It gave us just enough room to slide it into the car vertically, pack the remaining items (including Strouse House Baby) and hit the road for Richmond. We drove gingerly, got stuck in hours upon house of traffic and finally...10 hours later we carried it into the house. My life mantra is "No toy left unplayed" so I immediately went to installing the base and clearing space for our new "baby" despite the fact that we had a car full of suitcases, After getting it up on the TV stand I plugged it in and punched the power button. A glorious image of the Phillips logo! This was going to be sweet!
....and then it immediately shut off.
I tried it several more times to no avail. I tried switching outlets, pushing the physical power button on the TV, mashing buttons when the logo showed up.....nothing.
A few customer service phone calls later, I was told my best option was to bring it to Walmart for an exchange. They promised me that the mangled box was not going to be a hindrance. I loaded it up and drove to our local store. I wheeled it in to customer service and assumed a place in line. A nice lady walked up and said, "Are you returning that TV? I was planning to buy that specific one, but you are the second person since I've been in the store to return one and now I'm rethinking my purchase". I knew I was in trouble.
When it was my turn, I placed the TV on the counter and the employee shouted to the back "Got another Phillips 4k return". They quickly told me I had two options since the TV was sold out nation wide and "while supplies last"- 1.) Return the TV for a full refund OR 2.) Exchange it for a similarly priced TV. The equivalent TV price-wise was around 42 inches which totally defeated the purpose so I took the refund and limped out of the store (metaphorically).
Some quick internet research showed that this exact TV was being returned nation wide for the same problem. The truth of the matter is that Phillips would never significantly discount their actual 55 in 4k TVs. Instead they package cheap components into the same Phillips shell and sell them only on Black Friday for next to nothing and then take a hit on any returns. If you get a working one - Good for you! If you get a non-working one - we are sorry, but feel free to pay an extra $300 to get a real one at Walmart only!
Needless to say, we learned our lesson. The hard way. The "driving 623 miles with a TV too large for our car" way.
If it's too good to be true, it is. I'm sure someday we will be hitting the stores again in search of Barbie Ferraris and Disney playthings, but in the meantime I think we will save our money for quality goods.
This story does end happily. We took another 2 months to do some research. We realized we didn't need a 4K TV so we saved the money and ended up with a great deal on a 55 in flat screen Insignia (above) for only $40 more than the Black Friday deal.
Just goes to show you can save MORE money if you don't get caught up in the Black Friday hype.
Have a crazy Black Friday story? Ever been trampled in your pursuit of the perfect present? We'd love to hear about it! Comment below!