Black Friday and System D

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Black Friday and System D

Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving in the United States) is a day many retail merchants have huge sales to kick off the holiday season.  The use of the word “black” is in reference to accounting – it is the day merchants come out of the red and into the black for the year.  The day offers an opportunity for consumers to find some great deals, and to work off the huge meals prepared the day before.  Actually, because every retailer is trying to get the jump on their competitors, the “opening” time for Black Friday shoppers has been getting earlier every year.  This year, the opening was stretched to the limit (without the event being renamed), as the stores opened at midnight on Wednesday.

For my sons and me, Black Friday was a chance to meet in line at Best Buy (on Thursday), and for them to possibly score a new TV and some games.   The boys wanted to get there by 4pm – and managed to get there by 4:30.  We were not the first in line.

The Best Buy employees were expected at 11:00pm for the midnight opening.  I’ve heard that you can’t get a better price anywhere, assuming there is sufficient inventory and you have a good position in line.  Looking around, I’m not sure either one is true.  I calculate that — between the boys and I — we will have about 24 man-hours invested in this venture before the store opens.  Talk about games you can’t win.  I try not to think about the negative expected value of the pursuit, and focus on our quality time together.  You have to try to keep things positive.

As I was saying — we were there because my sons want to buy a 32″ flat screen television at (what they considered) a once-in-a-lifetime price.  As Black Friday virgins, we did not understand that after waiting in line for 7-1/2 hours, there was no guarantee that we were going to be offered any deals – even a deal on something we didn’t want.

While enjoying quality time with my sons, there were occasional breaks where I snuck away to speak with some of the other adults in line.  My recon work led me to believe that most of the queue was there for the X-Box deal – and there are supposed to be “unlimited quantities”.   Maybe they do have a chance at the TV.

At 11:45 the store employees came out to walk the line, ask everyone what they were there for, and provide tickets to those who were eligible.  This was done, apparently, to prevent a rush into the store.  It was a subtle way to let everyone know that we were not going to play tackle today.  I’m told it is a piece of planning learned from many incidents in previous years.  Flat screen televisions were limited to ten per store.  We did not get one of the golden tickets.

One group toward the front of the line – who I later discover to be ‘System D’* professionals (I’ll call them ‘SDPs’) — seemed to have some inside knowledge, as well as some very unique Black Friday plans.  I later learn that they were not there for the golden ticket.

When the store opened at midnight, SDPs entered the store and made a beeline for the X-Box display, emptying the full display of X-Boxes into three shopping carts.  The SDP leader then parked in a chair while his confederates stood guard over the shopping carts.  When customers approached to pick up an X-Box he told them that there were none left, as he was purchasing them all.  However, if you really wanted an X-box, he offered to part with one for a $10.00 fee.  My sons and I watched him sell at least a dozen of them.  Amazingly, nobody was challenging the SDP’s $10.00 “un-stocking fee.”  It didn’t appear as if anyone was reporting this activity to either the store management or the dozens of police “working” outside the store.

They were enterprising, that’s for sure.  The word extortion comes to mind.  I pondered on this unril the next day – thinking about how a simple “one-per-customer” disclaimer would have foiled their plans, but also about how many people are willing to exploit the retailer’s oversight.  I did finally contacted the store and spoke to the manager, who stopped me in the middle of my question and, in an exasperated tone assured me that this individual was removed from the store twice before it was determined he was not getting the message.  Thus, the last time he was removed from the store, he was not arrested — he was “dealt with”.

The SDPs must have pocketed hundreds of dollars that morning doing something that it’s not clear to me there are any specific laws against.  Clearly, there was nothing in the training manual for either the manager or the police to help them deal with this very odd situation.

This story is definitely something for the story library, and if one of the SDPs stumbles upon this story and recognizes himself — please call.  I’d like invite you for dinner to get the story from your side of the “enterprise.” I’ll buy.

Bruce G.   [email protected]

 *1 – System D (in French, Système D) is a shorthand term that refers back to the French word débrouillard or démerder.  The verb se débrouiller means “to untangle”.  The verb se démerder means to literally remove oneself from the sh!+.  The basic theory of System D is that it is a manner of responding to challenges that requires one to have the ability to think fast, to adapt, and to improvise when getting the job done.  It has the connotation of getting around the system, managing to accomplish, or breaking the rules.”  From Wikipedia.  Sounds like the shadow economy.

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