Best Buy Tries to Kickstart Sales With Black Friday
It was the storm before the calm.
As midnight approached, an estimated 1,000 shoppers lined up outside a Best Buy in Canoga Park, Calif., where 80 employees inside prepared to open doors.
Harrison Rappaport was second in line, camped out since Monday. He was asked about the hardest part of his four-day experience outside the store. "The last 30 minutes. You want it to go by fast. It's taking forever."
There was a heavy police presence in the parking lot after a shopper at a nearby Walmart pepper sprayed a crowd lined up to buy Xboxes last year. Uniformed patrols were augmented by private security and undercover officers. (Read More: Are Shoppers Busting Down the Doors on Black Friday?)
"It's organized, it's safe, it's a good time," Jonathan Talkington said. This is his fourth year shopping at Best Buy on Black Friday. "They have it organized. They give out vouchers. Most places don't."
Once doors opened, about two dozen customers were allowed in at a time, and shopping went smoothly.
This is a critical Black Friday for Best Buy, which has suffered through a rough year, management shakeups, and a disappointing quarter. Citigroup reports that management has launched a "Renew Blue" initiative which includes improving the customer experience and "attracting and inspiring employees." (Read More: Best Buy Woes Continue as Earnings Fall Short.)
Each Best Buy store always holds a pre-open pep rally for employees who've spent much of Thanksgiving preparing for Black Friday.
Kimo Cano, manager of the store in Canoga Park, told employees "This is our Super Bowl." Cano thanked his employees and then led them in a sort of battle cry in Hawaiian, exhorting them in Hawaiian to focus on "service" and to "kick butt."
But just as Best Buy forms strategies for Black Friday, so do customers.
Jonathan Talkington was with seven friends which began camping out Tuesday. They snapped photos of themselves this week playing Xbox on a 42-inch TV they bought at Best Buy on last year's Black Friday.
Being so close to the front of the line allowed the group to pick up six to eight vouchers each. This limited number of vouchers reserve the best deals, like a $420 TV for $180. Talkington's crew had more than 40 vouchers between them, though John Haynes admitted he didn't plan on keeping everything he bought at a steep discount. "Maybe sell it on the Internet and make a little money for the holidays."
Once inside, shoppers discovered the store had only about a half dozen cashiers. Waits in line topped two hours. One customer claimed he had flown from India to buy a specific type of camera he cannot buy online back home. (Read More: Complete Holiday Central Coverage.)
"This is not the experience I was expecting," he said with frustration.
However, by 5:30 a.m., there was only a handful of people in line. It was more like a average Best Buy crowd on a typical weekend.
Calm had returned.
Best Buy hopes the customers in stores Friday will return year round, though management knows it has to combat those who use showrooms merely to check out products, but who then go home and buy those products online from competitors like Amazon . (Read More: Amazon: Great Black Friday Deals, but What About Sales Tax?)
"I'll come into Best Buy, and I'll look at the prices, and then I'll go on Amazon," Jake Rawitz admitted. So why is he here for Black Friday? "The deals here for the doorbusters are the best."
"I like the warranties," chimed in Jonathan Talkington, while Harrison Rappaport added, "I like the deals."
And then there was Jason McClelland. He was first in line, waiting for Black Friday since Sunday night at 10 p.m., 98 hours before doors opened.
The lowest point? "The first day, when I was the only one." McClelland bought a TV, a phone, and some DVDs for $355. He saved $700. What now? "I'm going to Disneyland."
—By CNBC's Jane Wells