10 Things Learned Shopping for a PS4 on Black Friday (At Midnight)

By David N. Scott in Daily Lists, Tech, Video Games
Monday, December 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

The goal.

This year, my wife, daughter, and I made a momentous and terrible decision to join the midnight/overnight shoppers on Black Friday this year. We wanted to mass upgrade our Xbox 360s to Playstation 4 units and it seemed the only opportunity to finally obtain them. We had missed the original launch and stock has been scarce since (more on this later). It was a fairly difficult decision as we were tired and full of turkey and mashed potatoes, not to mention our feet already hurt after preparing food that morning...but we went ahead with it. And so, in honor of this fine consumerist holiday, here are some things I learned while you sane people were sleeping:

1. It Pays to Be Committed

When we found out that the next-gen consoles were coming out this year, we had plenty of warning. And so, we made an agreement. If we canceled all birthday celebrations for the year, saved all of the money we would have spent, and greatly diminished Christmas, we would make a mass console upgrade. Three Playstation 4 consoles is an expensive purchase, maybe ridiculously so, but honestly we spend a lot of time playing video games, thus it seemed worth it. Frankly, given what other people I know do on the weekend, e.g. spend large amounts of money on overpriced alcohol, it generally seems a bargain and we were excited to check out the new Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag game in all its next-gen glory.

This excitement was important, as we started searching at Best Buy at 10:30 p.m., struck out and headed to our local Gamestop. There we found a line that seemed far too long to realistically expect to score and decided to head over to the local outdoor mall (Irvine Spectrum, one of the largest shopping centers in Southern California). Parking was awful, as in full-swing Christmas shopping awful, and we ended up parking on the far side of the mall from our destination. Thus we had a 45 minute walk through massive crowds to reach a Gamestop with a line three times as long as the one we had left. At this point, we walked back to the car, calling various Gamestops in short driving distance until we found one about 20 minutes away which had ten in stock and claimed to have a shorter line. We were in that line from 12:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., at which point we found out they were empty and we strongly considered quitting. But, we really wanted those consoles, so we pushed on.

2. Your Choices May Be Limited

Gordon Gekko has some things to say about Black Friday.

I missed the launch because I wanted to make sure my quarterly bonus was in the bank before I got into anything like major video game purchases right before Christmas. As such, participating in the pre-order was not really an option. No problem, I thought. There will be plenty around, especially once the Xbox One distracts people from the craziness of the launch. I was way, way off, though. I was told with varying levels of honesty by multiple retailers during the last two weeks that they had Playstation 4 consoles around but they just didn't want to sell them. Why? Black Friday. Although there was no special sale or circumstance, they wanted to have units on hand. It was nothing close to the demand given my experience, but I guess it made them feel better.

Now, think about this. Here I have over a thousand dollars to drop on a video game system but no one will sell me one because they want me to buy that same system on a particular day. I guess maybe they were hoping to sell me accessories, more games, etc. But I had no intention of purchasing anything along those lines. All I wanted was the system. Nonetheless, major retailers clammed up and hid them in the distribution centers and in the back of the store, removed them from their websites, etc. All due to the mystic significance of selling these units on one particular day. This really makes no sense, and I can only assume that it is intended to somehow excite shareholders, which seems the usual reason for business to make bad decisions.

3. Things Were Not As Crazy as the Hype

But then we didn't go to Walmart.

Maybe it's where I live (Orange County, CA, a generally happy place) or the places we went (Best Buy, Target, Gamestop, and the Spectrum), but everyone seemed to be really mellow and calm, given the circumstances. It was overall a younger, hipper crowd. The vast majority of them seemed out to have a good time and get some cheap clothes or video games or HD TVs. Angry/violent housewives and rioting bargainers were not in sight anywhere. I saw plenty of lines but no one was really breaking them or getting angry, even when the lines moved excruciatingly slowly and painfully, probably because the poor store workers were dead on their feet.

Sure, some kid ran across the street in front of the car and one person did push past us a bit aggressively at Target, so I'm not saying it was a pre-Christmas miracle or anything. But overall, people were pretty focused on their bargain hunting/sacrifices to the consumerist gods. On the other hand, reading Facebook and other social media feeds the next day made it sound like people were practically bringing knives and bricks in their purses and/or stampeding everywhere in a berserk rage. Honestly, though, it seemed like a really normal holiday shopping day.

4. It Seemed Like a Normal Day

Irvine Spectrum Center
Like this, but filled with people. I ran out of battery calling all those Gamestops. You'll just have to believe me.

But not in a normal way. It's midnight, we're at the mall, and everyone is milling around like it's the middle of the day. The Spectrum has a ferris wheel, a small ice-skating rink, and a carousel, and they all had huge lines (possibly because they were free until 8 a.m.). When we started to slow down we were able to get coffee and ice cream at Häagen-Dazs. Music was playing, money was exchanging hands, and there was even freeway traffic on the drive over. Really, if not for the massive lines, and possibly the professional DJ in the mall courtyard, it was like we all had just agreed to pretend like twelve imaginary hours had passed and it was lunchtime Friday instead of the middle of the night Thursday/Friday.

Orange County has a little bit of nightlife, especially down by the Spectrum. But I have stayed until closing time before and the place is usually completely empty by 2 in the morning. Given the lines we saw on the way out, I would say that it's a safe bet people really did stay there overnight. Gamestop itself was just as strange. I yawned at the checkout line, apologizing, and the girl working there said she felt the same way. I asked how much longer they were open and she said "10 pm tonight." Which means at that point they had another 20 hours to go. Hopefully some shift changes took place and they got overtime pay.

5. You Have to Get There Early

And the lines won't be anywhere near as entertaining as The Guild would have us believe.

My wife used to work retail and I work in consumer electronics, having done call center work in the past. This meant we were a little uncomfortable with how early the opening hours of these Black Friday sales are starting to be. 6 p.m. seemed pretty outrageous, 8 p.m. questionable, 10 p.m. basically okay, and midnight pretty safe as far as not ruining someone's Thanksgiving dinner. We also made a point of not actually endangering our own holiday meals with our families. That said, we did wrap up around 9 p.m. and Gamestop did not open until midnight so cruising up to a relatively obscure location at 11 p.m. to get in line seemed safe. This turned out to be an illusion, though, since as previously mentioned the line was already several dozens deep.

As we called around later that night, hoping to find any Gamestop in reasonable driving distance with stock, we found out that many of them had sold out within a few minutes. Best Buy said the same thing. It seemed like Xbox One consoles were a little easier to find, though we were not interested mostly due to the $100 price premium, which, added on top of the massive cost in the first place, took it out of the running entirely. It seemed like we would have had to have been among the first ten people in line, or at best in the first couple dozen. Unfortunately, I am not sure when that was. We had been there the day before and no one was in line with tents or anything - but it was well over an hour prior, that much is clear.

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