Inside The Black Friday Crowds and Chaos

I was a Black Friday virgin. I’d heard the crazy stories and I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

So last night at about 7 pm, I ventured South across the border to visit the Black Friday store sales at Bellis Fair in Bellingham, Washington State.


I first drove by Target to check if people were already lining up… and yes, at 8 pm about a hundred brave shoppers sat in camping chairs clad in warm winter wear.

I decided against spending the next four hours standing in the freezing cold and drove off to see what else I could find.


Beginners luck got me one of the last parking spots at Walmart and I wandered in at about 8:30 pm wondering how their sale was going to work.

I discovered Walmart was testing a new sale strategy this year. The store had been open all day, but they’d filled the centers of the main aisles with cling-wrapped pallets of toys, videos, TVs and all sorts of “doorbuster” sale items.

Shoppers crammed into the aisles trying to get close to their most coveted items and hold their positions until the cling-wrap was pulled at “go-time”.

The sale times were set at various intervals. Toys were to be released at 10pm, followed by electronics at midnight and, apparently, guns(!) at 8am the next day.

IMG_0740The parking lot was full just after 8:30 pm. Staff locked the doors at 9:00 pm and the long lines started to form. The store ran out of shopping carts and baskets and the crowds pushed towards the center aisles like teenagers at a rock concert.

Then, with barely 10 minutes to go, buyers could not wait any longer and some just reached in to grab whatever they could, despite the protests of staff and other shoppers. At 10 pm once the shoppers grabbed whatever was within their reach, the store became gridlocked with shopping carts.

Personally, I was having fun observing the chaos and grabbing some great bargains for my girls and Janice’s kids too. Since I didn’t plan on getting one of the hot deals on laptops, TVs, or other expensive items, I didn’t feel any stress.

However, since I’d hurt my back a couple weeks ago, all that standing in line sure wasn’t a good idea… especially when I couldn’t resist a lifting a huge ottoman storage chest ($29) into my cart.

A Two Hour Line

So, what do you do once you have everything you need? You look for the end of the queue for the cashiers. Again, more chaos as lines were coming from all directions. I spent over 2 hours waiting in line to pay!

On the whole, Walmart was a little scary. I don’t know how many people were packed in there, but I hate to think what would have happened if a fire alarm went off or a riot started. It definitely wasn’t safe and it scared me to see so many babies and children in the intense crowds.

So, I pulled away from Walmart at 11:50pm and, with my bad back and great purchases, you’d think it was time to head North.

But, no… the fun was just getting started at Target and I zipped over in time for their midnight opening.


IMG_0752Once I got one of the few remaining parking spots I headed to the BACK of a very, very long line.

Wow! I couldn’t believe how far the line went as I walked past Target, alongside Sears, around the corner, around another corner, then along the back of Sears. It was crazy.

Again I felt like I was twenty years younger at a rock concert.

While in line I chatted with two ladies who had also been at Walmart. But one of them had actually been trampled in the rush. She had been at the front of the crowd for some $3 items, and once the chaos started at countdown to 10 pm, she was pushed to the floor and people just walked on top of over, stepping all over her.

IMG_0768So, feeling a little hesitant, I continued walking in this line of thousands towards the doors. But, to my surprise, Target seemed to have worked out how to make Black Friday enjoyable for their shoppers.

Unlike the chaos and obvious danger shown at Walmart, Target ushered shoppers through the front door in batches. They also put the bargains on the ends of aisles amongst the normal items so that shoppers who got the bargains also put normal priced goods in their carts.

And, their staff was everywhere, restocking shelves, telling people where things were, cleaning up, etc.

Black Friday Target LinesEven the queue for the cashiers was organized with it snaking up and down aisles to keep it out of the way of the other shoppers. But, it still ran the full circle of the store so, again, it took around two hours to get through.

The Bottom Line

While I definitely got better deals at Walmart, Target was the safer and more reasonable shopping experience.

But, to be honest, I won’t be in the crowds next year. Once was enough. This year I really needed to get some bargains and I’m glad I went, but I’ll be online only next year. Since there are so many great deals online, I don’t think it’s really necessary to go through the chaos of shopping in a physical store at midnight on Black Friday.

I spent more than seven hours in the two stores, and I’m basically now done Christmas shopping. The rest I will order the smart way… through our good friend the Internet!

Not Everyone Stayed Safe During Black Friday Sales…

Was mine an unusual experience at Walmart? What happened at other stores? I was shocked to read this BBC news article. Here are some quotes from the article…

“Nelson Sepulveda, a New York building superintendent, was the first in line at a Manhattan Best Buy store having queued for 28 hours before it opened.”

“At a Walmart store in Los Angeles, “They [staff] were opening a package to try to get some Xboxes from a crate and this lady pepper-sprayed a whole bunch of people in order to gain an advantage over the Xboxes,” a local police sergeant said.”

“A man is in a stable but critical condition in hospital after being shot in the early hours as he left a Walmart with a group of people in San Leandro, California, when they resisted two armed robbers who demanded their purchases.”

“Security workers reportedly used pepper spray on shoppers who began grabbing at goods before they were unloaded from pallets at a Walmart in Kinston, North Carolina.”

“Several Occupy activists demonstrated outside New York’s flagship Macy’s, but they could not put off more than 9,000 people who had queued for the store’s midnight opening.”

“A man was reportedly detained for resisting arrest after a fight at the jewelry counter in the early hours at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Florida.”

“A woman was shot in the foot by a robber as she loaded her purchases into her car in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; the gunman fled as one of the victim’s companions brandished a revolver and fired warning shots.”

What About You?

So, did you hit the Black Friday sales? What bargains did you get and what experiences did you have?


  1. says

    Wow! You’re brave! I must admit that I’m somewhat jealous, though. LOVE Target and can’t wait for them to come North of the border. I was tempted to drive south to Buffalo for the bargains and just might do it over the weekend…we shall see. Thanks for the overview!

    • says

      I too love target and cannot wait for them to come my way either. So I am with you on it and without the wonderful store Target. They really do have nice things at good prices and have awesome sales I used to love shopping there.

      • says

        I love target too not too big on the black friday thing it scares me lol. I have heard some stories that make me want to cry for people. Just not sure I understand how people can get so crazy then again saving money is awesome I have found the after christmas sales to be worderful or the cyber sells awesome too.

  2. says

    Wow, wow, wow! Some of these Black Friday stories are insane. I did some online shopping last night and then did some in-store BF shopping today but there really weren’t any crowds left and I still got all the deals I was looking for. Actually I just got back from a quick trip to Walmart and got the $5 character jammies too.

  3. Jenn says

    I waited until the kids woke up and then we headed out – hit 7 stores (5 different stores but 2 of them I had to go to two of their different stores…) and spent just over $100 got what I needed, had a fun day, didn’t wait in very long lines, and missed all the chaos of midnight.

    However… when I can leave the kids elsewhere and I have a girlfriend or two to go with I really don’t mind some of that midnight chaos :) Although… I always skip WalMart, it’s just not a store I enjoy going to.

  4. says

    HOLY CRAP! Maybe I should be glad I don’t live in the states and don’t get to do black friday shopping. I was whining last night about wanting to experience it but I’ll stay home where I am safe.

  5. says

    It’s so sad, what people will resort to save a few extra bucks. I’ve never ventured out late at night on Black Friday. I do venture out in the morning and today, because the stores had already been opened for 12 hours, there were no crowds and plenty of parking. That is so sad what happened in San Leandro. I only live about 20 minutes away. On line shopping is the way to go!

  6. says

    Great article, Susan! I’ve never gone and I think it’s crazy, but I know a lot of people have fun. My 13-year-old daughter really wanted to go this year. I compromised and took her at 1pm.

    We were going to go to the outlet mall near us, but the parking was way out in a field. It always feels crowded to me there, so it must have been insane. So for plan B, we went to some standalone stores like JCPenney, TJ Maxx, and Famous Footwear, and we were happy.

    The salesgirl at JCP told me the same thing about the WalMart here. She and her husband just happened to be in there grocery shopping at 8pm and she said she saw that people had ripped into the items and put them in their carts and just sat there clogging the aisles. I’m not sure that strategy worked for them.

  7. says

    I have never gone Black Friday shopping before like 9am. Yesterday I went at 11am with my boys and my mother in law. I got a cartridge for my Cricut I’d been wanting, but for about the same price I would have paid online (she bought it for me for my birthday) and then some socks and underwear at Macy’s. Whoop whoop I know. 😛
    I just think it’s so ridiculous what people will do sometimes to save a little money. It’s just Stuff! And did you know that the version of the electronics sold at Walmart is usually of lesser quality than the “same” model sold in other stores? That’s why they can sell them for so much cheaper!

  8. says

    For a long time, we spent Thanksgiving in an area that didn’t have enough ‘big’ shopping venues to bother with getting up so early to shop. In more recent years I’ve become a conscientious objector and I stay away because I don’t think it’s necessary to ask so many employees to forego their own family celebrations to get ready for and staff the sales, and the lengths people go to for a ‘bargain’ is a disgrace that I don’t want to be part of.

    I count myself among chief bargain hunters, but I’ve managed to get great deals on what I need before the turkey is cooked so I really don’t need to join the crowds.

    I’m glad you had a safe, successful Black Friday adventure. I can’t believe how crazy it got in so many places. Glad I skipped it!


    • says

      PS–By planning ahead a bit, watching the sales and using rewards certificates that came in the mail, I was able to get Star Wars and Toy Story pj’s for $2.20 a pair (regular 34.99). Even better than Walmart’s $5, and no need to be up at 4 in the morning when I can get those deals on a random Friday! Used the same strategy to pay under $3 for more than $200 worth of brand new shirts and shorts for the boys. Let me know if you need any pointers! 😉

  9. says

    We went to Walmart for the ottoman too as well as Mickey Mouse slippers and the griddle for a gift. There were three of us, so we all split up and I was about the 10th person in line and they all joined up with me. It’s definitely easier if you go with a group to divide and conquer :) But….not conquer in the gun and pepper spray way – holy smokes! People are nuts!

  10. says

    My husband has forbidden me from shopping at Walmart on Black Friday. Seriously. It’s scary on a normal day. I can’t imagine it on Black Friday. I headed to the mall this year and it was an incredibly pleasant experience. The lines were not long, I got everything I was looking for, and everyone was kind. I actually felt bad for the stores that there weren’t more people there!

  11. says

    I went to Walmart and Target on black friday. Walmart was a mad house with no organization. People were grabbing the deals at 9:30, they were not covered off at all. There was one long line for 11 check out stands. I asked at least 15 employees were something was and always got the I don’t know answer. Target was much better Very Very long line, but got in very quickly. They had security outside warning everyone pushing shoving or fighting would result in the police being called. Walmart would be better off not staying open all day and just having people line up and giving out tickets, like every other store does. I also went to K Mart and that was empty. When the store opened at 5 there was 25 people in line.

  12. MaryAnn says

    My husband, a girlfriend, and I started out at Walmart at 9:30. By the time we arrived, people had their carts filled with the doorbusters and were already in line. Fortunately, we have 2 Walmart’s that are close to one another, and my sis-in-law called and said Walmart #2 was mild so we headed there. Got everything I was looking for and only waited in line for 30 minutes!! Next destination was Kohl’s at midnight. We got in quickly and found everything we were looking for. But then, we found the end of the line. We looped around the entire store twice! We came around to the jewelry counter after being in line for 90 minutes, and were told that if we purchased jewelry from the case that they would ring us up. I needed a necklace for the hubby, so I jumped on the deal! Got the necklace, got to the cashier, and was told “We can only ring up your jewelry! We aren’t allowed to ring up large purchases!!” I was furious! I already gave up my place in line to buy jewelry. The staff was very rude and unwilling to honor the salespersons mistake. Luckily, we had “bonded” with our line mates and they let us back in. If we would have had to start over, I would not have made my purchases! Off to Target. We got in very quickly, found our merchandise and made our selections. The lines were intense, but you could check out in electronics if you were making a purchase in that department. We got to the end of the line and were notified that they were closing down the electronics registers. This just wasn’t my night. Two hours later I walked out with my purchases. We finally made it to Meijer at 4:45a, walked right in, found what we wanted, walked up to a register and paid. It was that simple! They were only out of 1 thing that I was looking for. That was the most pleasant store we had experienced all night long. This is our 4th year doing this, and the only type of violence we have ever witnessed was when people were trying to cut the line at Toys R Us last year. The police were called and they would not open the doors until order had been restored. Aside from that, I never thought of Black Friday shopping as “scary”. I am usually in my zone, go for what I need, and don’t really pay attention to anyone else. With all that happened this year though, I think I will be more cautious of my surroundings next year or if RefreshMom could share her secrets on how to get good deals without going out on Black Friday, maybe I could stay warm and get some extra sleep that day!

  13. Rosey says

    I did it once a few years back and said I’d never do it again. Well, lo’ and behold, hubby and I decided to try Walmart this year since they were opening at 10pm (2 hours before everyone else). We walked in, walked around the store a few minutes, and admired a couple of bargains.

    “How many of these would we have to buy to make it worth standing in that line?” Hubby asked me.

    I looked at the line snaked through cosmetics, hardlines, and crafts, and said, ’57.’

    We promptly left and went back home. :) It really was just CRAZY this year!!

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