MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. --
After Thanksgiving dinners have been eaten, football games have been watched and families have gone to bed, those anxious for a great deal will be camped out at store fronts, trying to keep warm while they wait for the lights to come on and the doors to open.
The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is the official start to the holiday shopping season, and a day bargain hunters eagerly anticipate. Retailers jockey for position to be the store that attracts the most shoppers by offering greatly discounted door-busters, purchase incentives or gifts for those who arrive first.
The March Exchange is no stranger to Black Friday and its employees are ready for the rush this year, said Stephanie Kuykendall, store manager.
"Last year we had people starting to line up Thanksgiving night at 8 p.m. They camped out at the front of the store," said Kuykendall. "When I got there at 2:30 in the morning, people were all cuddled in blankets and sleeping bags."
Kuykendall said she had porta potties and hand washing stations delivered last year for the people waiting in line. She said shoppers are welcome to bring chairs, blankets, tents, RVs or anything else to make their wait more comfortable this year.
"Just make sure you are in a team so you can pack things up before the store opens," she said. "You won't want to drag that stuff through the store."
The Exchange staff makes pick-a-tickets ahead of time for each high-demand item in stock. These tickets are handed out to ID card holders who have waited in line based on the items they want.
"We are issued a certain amount of merchandise," she said. "Unfortunately, we're not going to have hundreds and hundreds of blockbusters."
Each ID card holder can receive one ticket per advertised item, while supplies last, on a first-in-line, first-to-choose basis.
"If you have six things on your wish list that you want and you are first in line, I hand you one ticket for each of those six items," Kuykendall explained. "Once we finish with the tickets, we open up the doors for people to fill in the vestibule so when we do open the store they aren't running like chickens with their heads cut off."
Last year, Kuykendall and her assistant manager started handing out pick-a-tickets at 3:30 a.m. This year, the tickets can be redeemed until 9 a.m. After that, any hot items in stock will be raffled off for those interested in purchasing the items.
To have a more orderly shopping experience, the Exchange creates two lines to enter the store from the vestibule, one for ID card holders and one for those who are signing in a guest.
"Last year it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get everyone into the store," Kuykendall said.
The staff of the Exchange has learned from past experiences and continue to make the shopping experience better for their customers.
"One year, we had the big TVs at the front of the store but nobody can juggle a 55 (inch TV) by themselves so people were sitting on them, laying on them, trying to put them in a shopping cart," she said.
Last year, they kept the large TVs in the back of the store and had shoppers drive around to the stock room for pick up.
"That was a win-win and we will continue to do it this year," Kuykendall said.
The Exchange also assists holiday shoppers by offering price-matching. To be eligible for the match, the item must be identical in all aspects, including size and model number.
"On electronics it's crazy because the slightest difference means a different model number," Kuykendall said. "It's helpful if you have the ad but we price-match up to $10 without the ad."
Kuykendall advises that price-matching without the ad will be difficult on busy shopping days because it requires a phone call to the other store. The Exchange only price-matches dollar amounts, so buy-one-get-one-free deals or percentage-off coupons are ineligible.
The Exchange has four ad flyers this year; one each for Black Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Cyber Monday. Kuykendall said it's very important for customers to make sure they are looking at the right flyer because they are all delivered together. If the item the customer wants is in the Saturday flyer and they come to get it on Black Friday, the store won't be able to sell it to them.
An alternative to standing in line for a deal is online shopping. If there is a computer mouse next to the item in the Exchange's ad, it means that item is available online.
The Exchange offers Christmas layaway on everything but televisions. Layaway for computers, laptops, iPads and Net books require a deposit of 15% of the purchase price and the item must picked up by the close of business on Dec. 16 or a $5 cancellation fee will apply. Black Friday sale items cannot be put on layaway.
"My advice for first-time Black Friday shoppers to have a good experience is to come in with a happy attitude and a smile on their face, to realize that everybody here wants a good deal," Kuykendall said. "Sometimes people get crazy. We don't want that to happen here. Nothing is worth fighting over."
She reminds shoppers to dress in layers because it's cold outside and warm inside, and eat before shopping or bring snacks. Kuykendall predicts that tablets (mini-computers) are going to be extremely hot.
"TVs are always popular and this year we've got some really good TVs at some really good prices. They're on the front page of all our ads," she said.
Kuykendall reminds customers that because the Exchange does not charge sales tax, the savings can really add up on big-ticket items.
So, pack some leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, your warmest blankets and something to keep you occupied while you wait in line, and head to your favorite store to take advantage of the blockbuster deals on Black Friday. The March Exchange will open on Black Friday at 4 a.m. and on Saturday at 6 a.m.
Keep up with what's going on at March through the base website, Facebook and Twitter.