Dumb Idea: Waking Up at 4 AM to Shop for Deals

My hunt for a cheap, 32″ LCD TV via one of Black Friday’s so-called “door-busting” sales is over. And it ended in frustration, anger and tears. OK, just anger and frustration.

Like many others this holiday season, I found myself in want of a new HDTV, and (foolishly) decided to try my hand at purchasing the heavily discounted Emerson 32″ LCD TV that was being used by Target (s TGT) and Wal-mart (s WMT) to get consumers into their stores. Both priced the TV below $250 (Target at $246, Wal-mart at $248), and both had “limited supplies.”

I should note that this was my first time pursuing “unbeatable prices” at a big-box store while so many other people were still sound asleep. Even though I knew the chances of acquiring one of these underpriced TVs was actually pretty low, I still woke up in the middle of the night and ventured out shopping.

I went to Wal-mart first, arriving around 4:00 a.m. EST, only to be find that there was no actual “door busting” going on. In order to make things more orderly by keeping Thanksgiving hours in most of its stores, queuing customers up and selling off heavily discounted items one by one. All of which meant that I arrived to find the store’s doors wide open, the aisles of the electronics section packed, and the cache of TVs sold off a full hour before the sale officially began.

Next I headed to the local Target, where the doors had not yet opened. So I got in line with what felt like 1,000 other shoppers and slowly made my way inside, only to find the aisles gridlocked with the store’s signature red carts. No one seemed to know where the discounted TVs were, and by the time I found them — in some random aisle in the middle of the store — the stash had been picked clean, with only a piece of signage lying around to signal that there had once been an “unbelievable deal” in that spot.

So what have I learned? First, that my time is better spent shopping online, where one can actually make a sound, reasoned purchase decision while still finding discounts. Within an hour of arriving home, I found decent deals on other TVs from brand-name CE manufacturers, including a 32″ Vizio LCD TV at Sam’s Club for $338 with free shipping (club membership required) and a 32″ Toshiba LCD TV at Amazon.com for $319.99 ($344.68 with shipping and handling). While neither approaches the $250 price point offered in-store at the big-box retailers, both are a significant value over other comparable products on sale.

I also learned that door-buster deals are for suckers. Considering the slim chance of obtaining one of a limited supply of a certain product, the amount of time, frustration and energy spent jostling with other shoppers is just not worth it — which is why next year I’ll be sleeping in.