On This Black Friday, Electronics Were the Rage

By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC
Nov. 28, 2023

Some people would tell you Black Friday is best enjoyed shopping on your phone, or eating leftovers, or watching football, or decorating the house, or doing nothing at all.

Others would tell you it’s the day to go out and shop. Black Friday is their Super Bowl Sunday. Touchdown, capitalism. To the victors go the savings.

It’s this group we set out to see last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. On a clear-but-cold morning, we bundled up and trudged out to dutifully track store traffic at a Walmart, Target, Costco, and Sam’s Club in northwest suburban Chicagoland. We took a notebook and an open mind. We would observe the shoppers and see where the action was. We would even do some shopping for ourselves.

Here is what we saw.

Walmart | Mt. Prospect, Ill.

7:25 a.m. 

“It’s high-traffic back here,” a Walmart employee said into his wireless microphone as he purposefully walked the back of the store.

“Here” was the Electronics section, which was busier than any department we saw on Black Friday.  The draw was televisions, with 55-inch and 65-inch TCL models getting a lot of interest. You didn’t have to look very hard to find someone with a large TV poking out of a shopping cart or lying flat on a platform cart.

A young woman rifled through $4 bath towels in a Black Friday display box with a 65-inch TV sticking halfway out of her cart. Did she come to Walmart intending to buy it?

“Yes, I did,” she said with a big smile.

Back in Electronics, three young people watched three men struggling to fit a 65-inch television into their cart.

“I installed three of them myself,” a pony-tailed young man said to his buddy.

“You ain’t gotta flex on ’em,” said his friend, smiling.

Elsewhere in Electronics, people looked at computers, mobile phones, gift cards. But the action remained hottest in the 16-foot span between the 55- and 65-inch TVs. And the televisions were going fast.

A mother and her adult son strode up to the 65-inch TVs stacked on a palette.

“You take this side and I take this side,” she said to her son, grabbing one of the two thin plastic straps atop the TV.” Plop. Another TV in the cart.

A few moments later, there was a boom. Two 65-inch TVs had fallen to the ground, but as their fall was from just six inches high, it was more sound than fury. Their fate was to be like the others on this display today: carted outside into the cold, finessed into trunks, and whisked away to new homes.

The parking lot at this Walmart was perhaps two-thirds full, and it was surprisingly quiet upon entering. But as shoppers walked past the self-checkout and cash registers and made the turn toward the Seasonal section, the “Black Friday” displays started appearing every six feet, and the action started to pick up. Shoppers scooped up 1,00o-thread-count sheets, plush blankets, vacuums.

That was by design, as a store employee told us, as electronics and home goods were intended to be draws this year. Mission accomplished, from what we saw — and heard.

Target | Arlington Heights, Ill.

8:45 a.m.

As was the case at Walmart, electronics were the draw, but the headliner at Target was not TVs, but the Sony Playstation 5, on sale online and in-store on Black Friday.

“They sold out in like 10 seconds [online],” said a store associate pushing a cart filled with online orders near the produce section. She had a big-screen TV and a Shark vacuum, both Black Friday deals at Target, as well as paper towels.

She went her way, and we walked back to Electronics. We had to know. Did they have any Playstation 5s left? No, they did not.

Did they sell out when the store opened at 6 a.m.?

“Pretty much, yeah,” an associate said, smiling.

Another Target employee stocking a seasonal display described Black Friday store traffic as “steady.” There weren’t lines of people waiting outside to get in upon the store opening, but that ended a few years ago, she said.

In our 30 minutes at the store, we found customers to be well-dispersed throughout. It was active, but not overwhelmingly crowded. You could get things done here. Toys were popular, as were vacuums.

We even picked up a few holiday items. As we waited to check out, we ended up behind a customer with a shopping cart full of goods: clothing, gift cards, knick-knacks. It looked like she had completed all of her stocking-shopping.

“That was the idea, yeah,” she said.

Her bill came up to more than $600. A store associate tore the two-foot-long receipt off the register and held it in front of his face as Babe Winkelman might hold a walleye.

“It’s actually been pretty chill,” the Target worker said of the Black Friday crowds, after handing the receipt to the customer. “But I feel it. I’m pretty amped up. I’ve had my coffee. I can feel the adrenaline.”

It was now time for us to catch our own second wind and hit a few more stores.

Costco | Mt. Prospect, Ill.

9:45 a.m. 

A young man in Air Jordan 1s pushed a cart with an 86-inch TV jutting out of it like it owned the place, because it did — it’s an 86-inch TV, and its diet is every TV every one of our ancestors has ever owned, including the giant, bomb-proof, wood-console push-button Zenith our Grandma Pat and Grandpa Cecil owned.

“That’s the biggest TV I’ve ever seen,” we said to the young man, who likely knows nothing of Zenith or having just 10 channels to choose from.

Behind him, his dad pushed a shopping cart with a box of motor oil in it.

“Let me tell you something,” he said, motioning at the TV. “Two weeks ago, it was cheaper,” he said. “Then it went up 100 bucks.”

In the end, the heart wants what the heart wants, and like the other stores we visited on Friday, the heart wanted a TV. The Electronics section was buzzing at Costco, too, but without quite the urgency at Walmart or Target, as most prices were good through at least Sunday. This gave shoppers a chance to ponder and plan a return trip to Costco, as we saw at least one shopper do.

Alas, Black Friday isn’t quite the event at Costco as it is at other stores. As one store associate noted, some promotions start before Thanksgiving. Also, the store also puts holiday items out as soon as it gets them, which means that it has been beginning to look a lot like Christmas here since, say, November 1.

Still, the store was buzzing Friday morning, opening an hour earlier than its 10 a.m. start time. Activity was strong around the clothing, with rows and rows of flannel shirts and other winter wear.

The parking lot, about half-full when we entered, was getting more crowded when we left after 30 minutes. There was one store left to hit on our journey, and since we had visited Costco, we needed to see how things were going at its top competitor one town over.

Sam’s Club | Des Plaines, Ill.

11:05 a.m. 

“We were just browsing,” a young woman told us. Then, she and a companion saw a 50-inch Visio TV for $199.  And now, they were buying.

We were standing in the TV section, where the action centered around this particular Visio model, which caught the eye of several customers.

Ten feet away, an AT&T representative promoted a Black Friday special on iPhones, which was getting a good deal of action, too.

Yes, Electronics caught the fancy of shoppers at this Sam’s Club, which had a somewhat crowded feel late on Friday morning.

We walked toward the toys, another busy section. A grandfather pushed his grandson in a cart. Two women looked at boxes of Legos, playing the age-old game of “Do my grandchildren have that already?”

It was almost noon. We were beat. We could only imagine how the store employees felt. It was time to go home and put up the Christmas tree. No TVs today for us. Our old TV would survive another year.

Other warhorse TVs weren’t so lucky on this Black Friday. There will be a lot of old screens and new boxes on the curb this week on Garbage Day.