Saturday, November 30, 2013

PayPal Makes Black Friday Even Darker

I've never participated in a Black Friday sale. My view of Black Friday has always been people getting big-ticket items at huge discounts.

My lack of participation has always had to do with my finances. I have never had the discretionary income to go out and buy such things, I had bills to pay.

Every year I've watched the annual running of the shopping carts from the safety of my living room clutching my wallet. Fearing that I might get the idea that I could do that too.

Well, it finally happened. Things have gone pretty well this year. While I haven't made a ton of money I'm in a better place financially. I just came off of a 6 week comedy run with a few extra dollars. So I thought, maybe I can give this a try. I'll do some of my Christmas shopping on Black Friday! I'll get some cool things for myself and those I love. I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I knew I didn't know exactly how it was all going to work, but I believed I could make it work.

I was sooooooo wrong ...

I'm not much for holidays any more (that's another story for another time) so I spent my Thanksgiving driving from my home in Illinois to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle is within 2 hours of my final destination, a comedy club that I'm working at on Black Friday. It will be my first time there. I could have left real early on Black Friday and made it, but getting close the day before enables me to get some rest the night before show and come in fresh. I can do a much better show when I'm not tired and stressed out from driving 14 hours.

Included in my travel plan was to stop at a Walmart, (actually 2 of them) on the way to take advantage of some Black Friday specials. They had some guaranteed pricing from 6 - 7 and more from 8 - 9. The plan was simple. Stop at the first Walmart at 6:00P, buy some stuff. Then I would head down the road, stop at the next one at 8:00P and buy more stuff. I would head into Carlisle.

Those of you laughing as you read that last paragraph have been through the Black Friday experience before and can see how naive I really was. I had no idea what I was I was walking into.

I left my home outside of Abingdon Illinois at 7:00A and drove through the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio without incident, things were going well. By 5:45P I found myself in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania. I had done my preparation the day before and knew there was a Walmart there. I had made a list of 10 Walmarts that would be on my route. As I got close to Pennsylvania I would enter the addresses in my GPS to figure which one I could stop at about 30 minutes before the Black Friday start time, Belle Vernon was the big winner.

I wasn't even alarmed when I saw the Walmart parking lot was completely filled. I didn't even try to search for a spot. I took the first open spot I saw which was about as far away from the front door you could get. When I walked in the store I saw was crowded but I expected that, they gave me a map and I found where my big get was, an Ipad Mini.

I found the line for the Mini and it stretched so far that you couldn't see the beginning. It started in the Pharmacy and went along the outside wall stretching half way into Lawn and Garden. If you're a regular Walmart shopper that will have meant something to you. If not, trust me; that's a really long line. Even then I wasn't worried. When 6:00P came and the Black Friday event officially started I expected the line to start moving after a few minutes but it didn't. In fact at 6:15P I was still standing in the same place I started in, the line had gotten longer but still had not moved. I started to worry. The Ipad wasn't the only thing I wanted to get between 6 and 7, there were other items I wanted.

By 7:40P I had moved about 20 feet and it was becoming apparent I would not get through it by 8:00P. I would be lucky to be done by 9:00P. How was I going to buy the other things? I was getting really worried. It was then that a Walmart employee came down the line asking if people had a green wristband. Only those people would be getting an Ipad Mini tonight. What? I didn't have one of those wristbands! Walmart promised! If I was in the store between 6 and 7 I would get the Ipad Mini at a very special price. This is what I was thinking as the Walmart person explained that the people with the green wristbands take home an Ipad Mini. Everyone else gets a card to take to the cashier. Once you pay for it Walmart will ship the coveted Ipad Mini to the store of your choosing.

Perfect! I didn't want to carry stuff with me anyway! Give me my Ipad Mini card Walmart person! I'll go do the rest of my shopping! That's what I did. I went around the store and collecting the cards of the things I wanted because they had run out of EVERYTHING. Now that I was holding all the cards I was going to pay for all my great stuff, get a big discount and it would all be waiting for me when I got back home! I wouldn't have to carry it all around with me and worry about getting it stolen from my car. Things couldn't have worked out better!

Why was I even worrying?

Then it came time to pay. I went to the regular checkout lines and it looked like standing room only at a concert. There was no pattern to where people were standing. They were all just pointed toward the checkout stands. I was standing next to a woman who had a cart overflowing with boxes. She looked at me and said "If all you have is those cards you should try checking out at the Jewelry counter". I asked her "Is this some sort of trick to get me out of this line?" She smiled and said "No, I will save your place." Since it wasn't much of a place anyway off I went to the Jewelry counter. It was located in the center of the store.  Just the like the center of a hurricane it was pretty calm. There was a line there that I stood at the end of for a while that just wasn't moving.

At that point I didn't know what to do so I decided to go back to my people in the Ipad Mini line. I couldn't believe what I saw as I walked into the Lawn and Garden area. There was a cashier standing at her register and there were only 2 people in front of her! I quickly rushed toward the checkout station!

I was now the 3nd person in line at the Lawn and Garden Register! Wow was I lucky! All the other lines were much longer than this one. Unfortunately the cashier was stuck on the first person for almost an hour. She couldn't figure out how to properly check someone out with one of these cards. I patiently waited and thought, OK I'll just stay here for the 8:00P sale, I'll be a little late getting into Carlisle, but I'll have my shopping done. I'll pay for Round 1 and then go through Round 2 here. All is still well! This Black Friday thing is going to work out after all!

It was right about that time the cashier (with the help of 3 other manager type people) finally figured out how to check someone out. All the sudden it was my turn! All my waiting and worrying was about to pay off. My first ever Black Friday purchase! Man was I saving a lot of money! The cashier told me the total and as she and the people behind me watched I swiped my PayPal MasterCard to pay for my treasures.

Why didn't I take cash? I was buying a lot of stuff and I didn't want to take a lot of money. Besides, my PayPal card was bulletproof. It was never declined. You see the way it works is I charge something, PayPal authorizes it. Then it's taken out of my checking account automatically. I never get a bill and I can always use it. It's perfection when it comes to paying for things.

I had just spent 10 days in Canada and crossed 3 provinces. Not only did it work there. It paid in Canadian and automatically exchanged to US. How cool is that? So you can see why I would never even consider the possibility that my card would be declined. Which is exactly what happened and I was stunned. All that I just went through and now the card was not going to work? There must be a problem with the authorization system I told the clerk, there is no reason this shouldn't work is what I embarrassingly said as I asked her to try again. She did and again it didn't work and that's when I started getting the "it's time for you to move on loser" look from her and the people in line behind me. The looks of disapproval were making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I had a little cash with me but in the end I was able to get a couple of things but I left nearly empty handed and disappointed, my Black Friday was ruined.

The next day I called PayPal and asked what happened. They told me that because I lived in Illinois that my attempt to make a purchase in Pennsylvania triggered their fraud alert system. So to protect me, my card was "disabled".

That's when my disappointment turned into anger ....

Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is
Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.


PayPal Makes Black Friday Even Darker – Part II | Vilmos the Blog said...

[…] If you haven’t read the first part of this story you should. It’s the part that includes hope, it’s right here. […]

PayPal Makes Black Friday Even Darker – Part III | Vilmos the Blog said...

[…] you haven’t done so you should probably read Part I and Part […]