Are stores old-fashioned? Shopping with your Kindle

3:00 AM.  That’s when my SO (Significant Other) and I got up yesterday to go shopping.   I’m not a morning person (although I get up pretty early for work sometimes…I have some long commutes, depending on where I am teaching).  It’s quite funny to watch me stumbling around, so I hear.  ;)

So, why do it?  Why get up that early to go to a store, hopelessly confusing our pets? 

It’s a family tradition for us to go out on Black Friday.  Believe it or not, we think it’s fun.  My SO gets the papers (yes, actual newspapers) on Thursday, and I tend to use http://bfads.net .   We plot out a little bit about where we are going to go and spot some special deals we may want to get. 

We usually hit JC Penney first.  We go there because they give away an ornament…yep, we get up at 3:00 AM to get an ornament.  :)  Again, that’s a tradition.  This year, our offspring is away at college.  We’re going to send one by mail (shhh….don’t tell).  ;) 

We have fun waiting outside for the store to open.  It’s probably worth noting that we are in an area where it isn’t freezing or snowing…or usually, pouring rain.  It’s just kind of cold, but not terrible.  We enjoy chatting with people in line, and it is actually exciting when they open the doors.

I have to say, if we were really depending on Black Friday to get our shopping done, we’d find it a lot more stressful.   We do buy things that day, and do check people off the list.  But even if we didn’t get anything for friends and family, we’d still consider it a successful trip.

One of the things we plan to do is buy toys for Toys for Tots.  They want new, unwrapped toys.  We set a budget.  We tend to look for better-known brands, like Spider-Man, Star Wars, or Dora the Explorer.  We look a bit for the hot toys and special sales.  If you were disadvantaged, you would still be exposed to the same “fad-building” as other kids.  There’s nothing wrong with the classic red ball, but I think having the hot thing might make you feel a bit more mainstream.  We do look for sturdy toys that don’t require computer connection, and ideally, no batteries.  A lot of little pieces can be a problem, if they might change homes often.  My ideal Toys for Tot toy would also be hopeful and have a mythology behind it.

So, here’s what we did yesterday morning.  We got up at 3:00 and left about 3:30 AM.  We gave the pets snacks, but didn’t do the whole feeding thing (they were a bit confused).  We went to our first store, JCP.  There were already maybe ten to fifteen people in line when we got there.  We waited in line for about fifteen minutes, then they let us into the store.  It was an orderly entrance (that’s not always true).  We got our ornaments, and then started shopping. 

I don’t want to reveal what we got…it’s not that friends and family all read this regularly, ;) but you never know.   I’ll say, though, that we got a couple of “doorbuster” type things, and others that were discounted.

We went from there to Kohls.  It was the same kind of shopping, although I do count on Kohls for some Toys for Tots items.  They usually have traditional games quite inexpensively that morning.  As regular readers know, I used to manage a bookstore…I also managed a game store.  :) 

One thing at Kohls: wow, do you wait in line!  If we weren’t having fun shopping together, one of us would get right into line…guaranteed half hour, could be more.  We did shop together first, then I got in line, and my SO did some more shopping. 

That part of being together is a big reason we do Black Friday.  When I was a retail manager, forget my family seeing me much for the last couple of weeks.  I figured it out at one point: I did 120 hours in the store in one week.  I would leave at about one in the morning, get back by about eight…something like that.  It was kind of fun…like running a marathon is fun…you know, afterwards.  ;) 

My SO even worked with me in the store some (on top of a regular job), so we could be together more.

This is a way we spend time together during the holidays, in what is actually less stress than when I was working retail. 

By the way, that’s an important point.  What’s the difference between stress and hard work?  It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.  :)  Stress is unresolved.  If you dig ditches all day, but you go home and the ditch digging is done, that’s hard work, not stress.  If you were supposed to call somebody from your office and you couldn’t reach them, that’s stress.  Stress keeps your body in a somewhat heightened state, a fight or flight kind of supercharging…and that’s hard on it.

Black Friday isn’t that stressful for us, because we don’t mind if we don’t find a particular item.  If we get them, great, but we know we’ll get things otherwise.  If you felt like you absolutely needed Mr. Squiggles, the zhu zhu pet hamster, and couldn’t get one, that would be stressful.

Our next stop was Target.  The biggest problem with our Target on Black Friday is that they run out of carts.  We saw a shopping cart in a cart return, and I hopped out and got it.  We got into the store and started shopping.  However, we saw the people in line to check out and started following it.  We got to the end of the store, where the line turned…and couldn’t see the end ot it.  We asked a family how long they had been in line: half an hour.  We figured there was still an hour to go for them in line.  Well, we plan to go out to breakfast, and then go back and feed the pets.  We have a bit of time pressure on that: one of the dogs is a diabetic, and he needs to get an insulin shot around when he eats and ideally around the same time each day.  So, we asked the family (who had several members with their arms full of stuff) if they wanted the cart.  :)  They did, so we gave it to them and headed back to the car and out to breakfast.

What does all this have to with Kindles?

In other words, enough about me.  ;) 

To some of you, shopping on Black Friday seems like going to a barn-raising in Amish country…amusingly quaint, but not very practical. 

There are two real questions here: how does a Kindle help us shop in the stores, and why not just shop online?

How a Kindle helps us shop

My family sends out “wish lists”.  There’s usually a bit of a narrative, and then things people might like…along with sizes and compatibilities (which video game console they might have, that kind of thing).  It can be hard to put together the list, but it’s great to read them.  This is, honestly, one of the few times in a year when we get a “what’s happening with me” with some family members…the rest of the year, other family members might report for them. 

So, I use Microsft Word and make a list of the people for whom we will be buying gifts as a table.  I paste in the gift lists (with active hyperlinks). 

When I send that to my free Kindle address (see this earlier post for how to do this), I get back a conversion for my Kindle.  No cost, and the table works fine.  That means that when we shop, we can make sure we don’t forget anybody.  We have sizes and compatibilities handy as well.

As we get things, I edit a note I’ve made in the document to say what we got for whom.  You add the note with Menu-Add a Note or Highlight.  To edit it, it’s Menu-My Notes & Marks, then hit enter (the bent arrow key, the lowest one in your furthest right column…at least on a K2) after you get to the one you want.

When we get home, I update the file in Word on the computer…and then send it for conversion again.  The conversion doesn’t cost anything, and usually takes a minute or so for me.   I commonly attach my Kindle to my computer to move files around (I do that for work, among other things), and that’s how I charge it.  I use a Kindle 2…all Kindles except the Kindle 1 can charge through a USB.  That means this is pretty convenient for me. 

What did it replace?  Carrying around several pieces  of paper and writing on that.  I really don’t like carrying pens around…yes, ballpoints were high tech in their day, but they still leak sometimes.  When someone asks me on the street if I have a pen, I jokingly say, “No, do you have a keyboard?  I have three of those.”  ;) 

I also put a document on the Kindle that had the hours the stores were open…that can be helpful.

The other big thing about having the Kindle with us is the ability to “slog the web”, as I described in this earlier post.  It’s certainly slow, but I have used it to look up something.  For example, I might see a deal on something, and want to see the reviews about it. 

Are brick and mortar stores doomed?

Why not just shop online?  Why go into a store at all?  Certainly, the selection is broader online, and the prices can be better.  This is Black Friday…there is still time to order things online and get them for upcoming gift-giving occasions. 

The answer is that some of them are certainly going down.  That’s already happened to a lot of well-known stores, including bookstores.  There are no B. Dalton’s left, and pretty soon, only special WaldenBooks stores will be left.  Many retail stores don’t have much of a margin.  You know why it’s called Black Friday?  That’s the day many of the stores would “go into the black”…hit the point where they would make a profit for the year.  When I managed the game store, we made something like eighty percent of our sales for the year during the holiday season.  The rest of the year, we were really holding on for the holidays.

So, if stores don’t make it work this holiday season, a lot of them won’t make it through 2010.

However, we still like shopping in stores, and I think other people do.  It’s a social event, in some ways…some of the time.  It’s stumbling across things you never realized you might want, especially things on clearance.  Those may be sold out online as well…and then you can buy them as collector’s items for a premium. 

It’s kind of like doing out to see a movie in the theatres (we saw a couple of them on Thanksgiving…that’s sort of tradition as well).  It’s more convenient to watch it at home…and much cheaper.  But there is an experience in seeing a movie in a theatre.  I like that there are other people around, sharing the experience.  I like saying “Hi” to the popcorn seller, and bantering playfully with the people in the box office. 

Brick and mortar stores aren’t going to win on price or selection…they may win on convenience, but that’s only some times.  They are going to have to win on the experience of going…and some of them will figure out how to make that worth it. 

We had fun yesterday…sometimes, that’s the bottom line…not just the one on the balance sheet.  :)

If you’d rather shop online, I did a Kindle gift guide in this earlier post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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