We visited Walmart stores in New York and California on Black Friday.
Both were calmer and emptier than a typical Black Friday morning.
Some customers came for specific deals, while other just wandered through the stores.
The sun didn't rise in Los Angeles on Black Friday until 6:30 a.m., but around 55 people were in line to enter Walmart by 6 ahead of the store's 7 a.m. opening. Unlike Black Fridays of years past, the scene was calm.
Everyone stood quietly, a few feet between each group of people. It was a cool morning, only 50 degrees out, which counts for winter in Los Angeles.
As customers waited in line, two employees wheeled a cart around adorned with a large poster that featured the "Hot Items" that were on sale for the holiday. Included were: Nintendo Switch, Apple Airpods Pro, Gateway computers, various Apple Watches, an Xbox Series S, and two SmartCast TVs.
The poster featured the prices of the items as well as the part of the store in which they could be found. The employees wheeling the cart took time to explain the deals. If a customer wanted one of the deals, the employee handed them a card, which guaranteed the item.
Once inside, the Walmart employees explained, the customer would take the card to the designated store area and retrieve their item. The item would be held for the customer for two hours, at which point the hold would be released and the item would be available for purchase to the general public.
The majority of items included in the Black Friday deals were electronic. A Nintendo Switch went for $299, Apple Airpods Pro for $159, a Gateway Pent OPP laptop for $179; an Apple Watch S3 38MM for $109; an Xbox Series S Digital Version for $299; a 70-inch CLASS 4K Smart TV for $398.
As the employees featured the deals, they crossed out items whose stock had already been claimed. The first to be crossed off was an Apple Watch, followed by a laptop and television.
When the doors opened at 7 a.m., the customers, masked as according to Los Angeles County COVID-19 precautions, trailed into the store calmly. Employees also wore masks and some had on festive holiday headbands and Santa hats.
Throughout the store, there were red bows adorning signs naming the price of items. It was apparent we're in the holiday season, but reminders of the pandemic were also everywhere: signs for available vaccines, masked employees and patrons, and sanitizing stations.
The only place where there was even a line was in the electronics section, where customers were let in in groups of three to browse the televisions, phones, and video games. One employee said that thanks to the ubiquity of online advertising, customers come in knowing what they want.
One associate who's worked at Walmart since 2011 said that each year, Black Friday has gotten progressively calmer.
She said it's nothing like the mayhem that used to happen — partly because of the pandemic and partly because of technology. With online shopping, it's just easier to access Black Friday deals online than to wait in line in the predawn hours the day after Thanksgiving and hope you score.
Another employee said that people only come into the store for Black Friday if they want an item immediately and don't want to wait for shipping.
It's more chaotic than a normal morning, he said, but nothing like it used to be.
In 2021, at least in this Walmart in Los Angeles, the scene was more reminiscent of a midnight book launch than a frenzied shopping craze.
At a Walmart in Rochester, New York, we found a similar scene.
The store was surprisingly empty for a major shopping holiday.
Workers and security staff seemed to almost outnumber shoppers.
It was easy to walk down some of the less popular aisles and not see anyone else.
Customers that did show up seemed to mostly congregate around electronics, which are some of the most expensive items that Walmart sells.
Some video games were heavily discounted, and people were picking through what was left.
A display of games for the Nintendo Switch seemed to be especially popular, with few games left.
A display of discounted Ring Lights was disheveled, with many of the remaining boxes opened.
The other highly trafficked section of the store was some of the toy aisles.
Some shelves of Legos and Matchbox cars were totally wiped out.
Other toys didn't seem particularly popular, though.
Walmart was completely stocked with air fryers, one of the biggest Black Friday items so far according to data from Adobe.
Other kitchen appliances, including Instant Pots and mini waffle makers, were also in stock.
Even in the most crowded areas of the store, there was nothing like the chaos I've read about from other Black Fridays in the past.
Even with about half of the registers closed, lines never got more than a few carts deep.
My Black Friday Walmart experience was underwhelming. There were no items that seemed to be deals too good to pass up. Hardly anyone even seemed to be in a rush, and most customers were more casually browsing.
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