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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Burns A Big Hole In My Wallet

My kids had been asking for their own computers for some time now, so I had promised them they would get it when the price was right. Throughout the summer and most of fall, the prices were not right. In fact, I could not find a good replacement computer for my own at a good price, so I did not get them computers either.

Once the black Friday sales information became public, I combed through the ads (both online as well as in a newspaper I bought on Thanksgiving day). I identified a couple of netbooks by Compaq that were going to be on sale at Best Buy as part of their door-buster sale starting at 5 AM on black Friday (CQ10-405DX and CQ10-525DX). They had the features I needed at the right price (I had decided I would not pay over $200 for one of these netbooks).

I also identified an eMachines laptop on sale at Walmart, which also opens at 5 AM. This computer was a full-sized laptop, not a netbook, and I was not sure my kids were going to have enough room on their desks for such a laptop, so it was going to be my second choice. Also, it had a Celeron processor, so I was not too keen on it, given my bad experience with another Celeron-based laptop I have at home right now. I also scanned the ads for a decent laptop with a good processor, lots of disk space and a decent amount of RAM, but nothing much in my budget (under $500) appealed to me. So, my black Friday strategy was pretty much finalized: I would get up as early as I could, go to the nearest Best Buy and try to snag a couple of the netbooks for my kids. And after the inevitable failure at Best Buy, I would go over to Walmart and taste more defeat there!

The problem is that I am not desperate enough to camp out in front of stores from the day before or whatever to get something, whether it is the new release of a hot new product (like the Apple worshipers do) or a sale event like black Friday. So, I went to bed as usual, and managed to get up just before 4 AM on Friday.

I managed to reach Best Buy at about 4:10 in the morning. There was already a pretty long line of people there, as I expected. The line stretched all along the front of the big box store, but had not grown long enough to curve around the building yet. I joined the queue and waited.

Soon enough, Best Buy employees came around asking people in the queue whether anyone was there for cell phones. Another one was canvassing people for stereo systems, and yet another was looking for people looking for cameras. None of these people could tell me whether the netbooks I wanted were available or not.

Things were getting pretty uncomfortable in the line anyways. The temperature was in the low teens, and combined with a brisk breeze from the west, the windchill was in the single digits or negative. I was completely covered up in my thick down jacket, with the hood pulled up over my head, and my hands stuck deep in my pockets, but the cold was definitely winning anyways. Everybody in the line was trying to walk around and do other stuff to stay warm.

Best Buy folks brought out some hot coffee for people in line, but I never got any because they were always gone before I could get my hands on some. Finally around 4:45, a Best Buy employee walked around asking if anybody in the queue wanted a desktop computer bundle advertised for about $600. I asked him about the netbooks, and he said all the laptops in the sale sheet were already gone. Oh well, it was worth a try, I guess.

Finally, the doors opened at 5 AM, and the entire line surged forward in one unruly mass rather than going through single-file in the order they had lined up in. It took me 5 minutes to get in, but they were not even allowing people without vouchers into the laptop aisles, so I was there more to warm myself up rather than to pick anything up.

I did look at some blu-ray players they had on sale, but I decided not to pick any of them up. I do not watch TV at all, so I still have a 20-year old CRT-based TV at home. Hooking up a blu-ray player to that TV may or may not even be possible given the advances in available connections. And really, hooking a high-definition blu-ray player to that TV would be akin to observing the heavens with the hubble space telescope with its lens covered with a plastic cover! Once my hands and other extremities were defrosted, I left Best Buy and headed to Walmart.

The story was not much different at Walmart. There was no queue in front of the store, so I could get in right away. And there were people milling about in the laptop area of the store, but the eMachines laptop on sale was long gone by that time. I loitered around the store for a little while once again, then decided to head back home.

As I neared my home, I suddenly remembered that there was a CompUSA store near my home whose black Friday ad I had not seen either online or in print. So, I decided to take a small detour to visit that store before going home.
Black Friday Computer purchases
The black Friday sale at CompUSA was being called the pink Friday sale because they were donating a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research. The sale paper was only 2 sheets long, but listed quite a few goodies. In particular, they had ASUS EEE 10.1" netbooks for sale at $199. Just within my budget. Pretty similar to the Compaq netbooks I had struck out on at Best Buy (an Intel Atom N270 processor instead of an N455 processor, and $50 more), but it would serve my purpose and was within my budget, so I joined the line of people buying laptops.

The CompUSA store did not have laptops out in the open (except the ones on display). They had the boxed ones behind a counter, and people had to point out what they wanted on the sale sheet. An associate would then fetch them that laptop. They would then pay for it at that counter rather than at the front of the store where the general checkout lines were.

The laptop line initially got stuck because the checkout computer they were using crashed. Finally they got the line moving. By this time, while perusing the sale sheet, I had also noticed a $799 Lenovo laptop for sale at $399. That sounded like too good a deal to pass up, so I decided to get one of those too. Its hard drive size was not to my liking (I have no idea why laptop manufacturers skimp on the really cheap stuff like webcams and hard drive capacity, but they do anyways), but it would be a pretty good replacement for the 6 year old laptop my wife used to watch movies at night.

My only question was whether they were going to allow me to get two of the netbooks I wanted since the sale sheet mentioned a limit of one per customer for all items on the sale sheet. But that turned out not to be a problem. When I got to the head of the line, there were lots of the netbooks left, and 3 of the Lenovo laptops left. They allowed me to buy two of the netbooks without any arguments and one of the laptops also. Total damage: almost $900 including taxes.

So, my day was not entirely wasted running from store to store and returning home empty-handed. I did get the kids what I had promised them over the summer, and I managed to get a pretty good laptop so that I can start the process of getting rid of the real dogs at home pretty soon. It turns out the deal on the Lenovo laptop is not as good as the sale sheet led me to believe because it is available for $550 online (not $800 as the sale sheet claimed), but a deal is a deal anyways. My budget for a laptop to replace my wife's was about $400. Initially, I had wanted to upgrade to a computer with a much bigger hard drive for about $500 and pass my current computer down to her, but I have now decided to live with my laptop for a few more months or years until I am convinced I was getting a good deal. In the meantime, this new laptop should serve my wife's light computing needs admirably for the next several years.

So, yes, I did not return home empty-handed. And I did not return home with an empty wallet either. My wallet still has all the cards in it that I had taken with me on my shopping trip. It is just that one of them now has a much bigger balance on it than before. But, hey, I will be paying the credit card bill only at the end of next month, so who knows, I might win the lottery of something like that before then. Or get hit by lightning while being abducted by aliens. The likelihood of either scenario coming true is about the same . . .


Marcus said...

Good finds! The Thinkpads are great machines!

ps. I found your blog via Reddit :)

Blogannath said...

Thank you for that vote of confidence. I think so too, but will know for sure when I unpack and set up the Thinkpad. I have set up the netbooks, and they have impressed me so far. I will be posting reviews of both machines on my blog soon.

School Scholarships said...

Awesome insight into the Thinkpads. I've heard mixed reviews but nothing so personally in depth. Good Stuff!

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