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Shoppers brave crowds, live to tell tales

Holiday shoppers will go to extreme lengths to get a $199 laptop computer — or at least make the attempt — a glimpse inside our mailbag shows.
Shoppers crowd Water Tower Place shopping mall Nov. 25 in Chicago. Friday marked the start of the holiday shopping season.
Shoppers crowd Water Tower Place shopping mall Nov. 25 in Chicago. Friday marked the start of the holiday shopping season.Brian Kersey / AP
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Holiday shoppers will go to extreme lengths to get a $199 laptop computer — or at least make the attempt, a glimpse inside our mailbag shows.

Many readers wrote us over the long holiday weekend with tales from the trenches of the retail wars to report that some of the most heavily promoted specials — surprise! — tended to be in extremely short supply.

A typical story came from Gail, in Providence, R.I., who arrived at Wal-Mart at 2:45 a.m. Friday, more than two hours ahead of the store’s opening. But that was still not early enough for one of the few $199 laptops in stock.

“I would have to say that my shopping experience was bad,” she said, complaining of “too much violence” in the pursuit of bargains. “It was like a war zone."

Nancy, in Mullica Hill, N.J., said her two grown children waited outside a Circuit City Store for five and a half hours overnight to get one of the fabled $200 laptops.

“When the employee came out to hand out the vouchers, people who had been waiting in their cars came and butted in line in front of them and others who had been waiting and got the vouchers,” she said. “What a shame that people are so greedy and inconsiderate these days!!”

Douglas, in Grants Pass, Ore., said the cheap Wal-Mart laptops were gone by 5:05 a.m. once shoppers found them on a covered pallet — in the gardening department. “Had I known that the pallets would be wrapped in black plastic and that there were only 25 laptops and that I had virtually no chance of buying one then I certainly would not have wasted the drive to town,” he said.

Once shoppers found a bargain, they encountered some legendary lines.

Nathan, in Fremont, Calif., found a car stereo at Best Buy and got in line.

“Little did I know the line started in the center of the store, moved out to one end of the store, then went between aisles to get to the other end of the store, and then back to the center of the store, before you reach the cashiers,” he said. “Since the line took me all around the stores and between the aisles, when I finally got the cashiers, I ended up buying the original car stereo, a karaoke machine, a stainless steel toaster oven, two Xbox wireless controllers and a pair of speakers. … I wonder if Best Buy had that in mind when they wrapped the line all through their store.”

Judy, in Bentonville, Ark., had a novel strategy. She shopped, while her 19-year-old daughter waited in line. “We were done in an hour, but she was in line to check out the entire hour.”

Almost needless to say, many shoppers are fed up with the retail store madness and have switched some or all of their holiday shopping to the Internet.

Jennifer, of Saxonburg, Pa., said she went to Best Buy on Friday but could not find the MP3 player she wanted.

“The salesman tried to sell me a different one for $50 more, but I said, no thanks, because I was able to find it online for the same price, and I even got free shipping,” she said. “I will be doing about half of my holiday shopping online this year. With many online retailers offering free shipping, I just can't pass it up.”

Steph, in Choctaw, Okla., agreed, saying, “I plan to do more shopping online from now on. No Death Race 2000 to get to the store or to get home. No pig pens for bathrooms. No sick people coughing and sneezing all over you while you wait in line And you can read consumer reports on one page while you shop on another when online.”

"For me it's been a huge turnaround toward Internet buying,” said Todd of Fort Wayne, Ind. "Going to stores is too much of a what-if-game for me. … If the shipping costs are reasonable then this is no-brainer.”

Russ, of Portland, Maine, shops online to avoid the “ever-increasing rude crowds” but still likes to get out to window-shop.

“Online shopping has definitely improved my holiday mood. I do still stroll along downtown streets during the holiday checking out an occasional shop, more for the social aspect than anything else. Point me to the nearest coffee shop.”

While flat-screen televisions, laptop computers and video games seems to top the shopping lists of our tech-savvy eager shoppers, Candace in Twin Falls, Idaho, was raving about a truly unusual gift find: A seven-day pill holder in several designs from Fossil.

“The greatest part is that the pill sorter is inside of a leather case that zips, so one doesn't have to worry about the cases popping open and losing lots of dollars worth of meds by mistake,” she said. “I am getting this for everyone I know who takes multiple pills each day.”

It should be noted that many of our correspondents were satisfied with their “Black Friday” shopping experiences and the bargains they found.

Steven and Lisa in Geneva, Ill., wrote to compliment the “speedy” checkout service at Best Buy and the “pleasant” crowds.

Kathi, in Fullerton, Calif., hit the mall at 6 a.m. and said all but one of the early-bird specials she and her daughter sought were available.

“Although the mall was crowded, we had a pleasant shopping experience,” she said. “We hit three department stores, many specialty stores, and were finished by 9 a.m.”