The signs weren’t good.
I woke up on Black Friday morning to headlines that bemoaned the end of this festive day of aggressive consumerism. The physical version, at least.
Everyone, so rumor muttered, was now buying online and, if they were still going to stores, it was only to pick up their bargain goods.
I opened my eyes a little further and realized such headlines were from the UK. Would the US maintain its image as the world’s greatest retail-gorging outpost?
It was imperative, therefore, to go to Best Buy. These days, it seems America’s lone, all-encompassing physical gadget repository.
As I approached in my car, I feared an empty parking lot and forlorn blue-polo’d salespeople standing outside begging customers to enter. Or merely vaping.
Yet, as I came around the bend, I noticed something strange. There were quite a few cars parked outside. Worse, I drove around the parking lot twice and couldn’t find a space.
I was left to park at least 200 yards away.
Was Best Buy offering free ice cream? Or perhaps free iPhones?
As I walked to the front door, a man emerged carrying a vast box of iMac. A 27-incher, it seemed. Two more people stood outside clutching TV boxes as large as themselves.
I walked into a noise akin to a fairground. Music, loud chatter and people walking this way and that, desperately in search of, well, what?
I weaved my way to the back of the store. There, an elderly couple was being advised by a Best Buy salesman on the relative merits of a 15.6-inch laptop screen and a 17 inch.
The couple’s last laptop had been a 15.6 and they were clearly looking for something better.
As I looked around, not one Best Buy operative seemed idle. Checkouts were manned by two or three people, as customers salivated to pay.
Rows of vast TVs had been placed on the floor like Chinese terracotta soldiers. Among them were UHD TVs, some priced in the 200s and 300s.
I turned a corner and several young boys were trying on headphones, to the slight annoyance of (what may have been) their father.
I turned another corner to find a man on his knees, burrowing into the shelving as if he was at home looking for the last bag of potato chips.
It seemed he was actually looking for a particular speaker. Yet they were all the same.
Was he looking for a lucky serial number? I have no idea, but he was entirely unembarrassed as he pawed through one row of speakers, moved to his left — still on his knees — and began to paw through another row.
When he had gone, another customer walked up and decided this was the time to discover just how loud some of these speakers would play.
Very loud, was the answer. Very annoying was the result.
This was around 11:30am and the store was teeming with people. Some, indeed, were waiting to pick up. The vast majority, however, were on the hunt.
I should mention the less popular aisles. The cookers looked a touch forlorn, only being opened and closed by a single woman.
The fridges were being given the cold shoulder. As, sad to say, were the Surface devices, the Chromebooks and the Pixel phones. There weren’t too many people looking for printers, either.
I saw one woman desperately trying to get a Ring doorbell to work by pressing it repeatedly and expecting, what, a ringing sound? The footage is likely already at the local police headquarters.
I’d like to have been able to speak to at least one Best Buy employee to ask about the action, but they were all busily transacting.
I walked over to the Samsung TV display. A young couple was in spirited discussion.
“It’s got to be the 75-inch,” said the man.
“You’re mad. That’s bigger than our sofa,” replied his worried consort.
Several seconds of silence followed. I hope they’re still happy.
I’d collected enough evidence. America clearly hasn’t yet given up on gadget shopping in stores, at least when it comes to Black Friday.
My sense is that, while some feel confident buying online, many still want to see the gadget, touch the gadget, press a few buttons on it and see how it works.
Especially, I imagine, when they’re buying gifts. (And especially when some of these gadgets can cost thousands of dollars.)
How many in this Best Buy were buying for others, I can’t be sure. Perhaps the majority had merely been enticed by the prospect of a bargain.
By the look of the slightly sweaty but self-satisfied man carrying a very large TV box in front of me as I left, they were getting them.
And as long as Americans believe they’re getting a bargain, they’ll keep on buying.