How Shopping Apps Turned A Non-Shopper Into a Black Friday Doorbuster

Mobile Apps Turn Macy's At Midnight Into a Pretty Good Experience

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The allure of being a Black Friday doorbuster is lost on me, mainly because it is a rare combination of several of my least-favorite life activities: shopping, waking up early, interacting with salespeople and spending money on people who are not myself.

But when I was at the Macy's New York flagship store earlier today for its midnight opening, I realized that for many, Black Friday is -- dare I say -- fun. And while Cyber Monday has been taking bites out of Black Friday sales for years, retailers are attempting to use technology to enhance the in-store shopping experience, or at least make it as painless as possible. Can it make a Black Friday doorbuster out of me? I decided to give it a try.

Doors open at Macy's
Doors open at Macy's

I went to Macy's at 12:00 a.m. today with the expressed goal of making all of my holiday purchases consulting nothing but apps. In order to achieve some form of objectivity, I prepared no shopping list and did no prior research. Rather, I relied solely on faceless app makers to guide me to sound gift decisions.

My fate was entirely in their hands. (Or rather my fate was in my own hands, in the form of a handy app.) I needed to find a gift for my mother, my father and two sisters.

Here's how I fared:

The Macy's app sends exclusive deals to Black Friday shoppers via push notifications throughout their duration in the store. While a nice feature, the idea of waiting in a store so I could be alerted to a newly activated deal contradicts an app designed to make my shopping more efficient.

I start by filtering the Black Friday offerings by "Home" and I spot a items well-suited for each members of my family. The app allows me to assign recipients to each gift and I do so. This is going to be easy.

My little sister will be graduating from college next month, so the Stax Living 4-piece Dinnerware Sets are ideal for her to outfit her new big-girl apartment. And, at $4.99 for a set of four cups, bowls or plates, I can give her a full four-person set for just $15.

The app informs me that the items can be found on the eighth floor, so I use the in-store map -- also found within the app! -- to find the elevators and ascend seven floors. I successfully restrain myself from screaming at the other elevator passengers about the gloriousness of shopping with an app companion.

The item is nowhere to be found on the eighth floor, however. I only come to this revelation after being helped by a kind employee who noticed me perplexedly switching my gaze from my phone to the store shelves for nearly 10 minutes. The cups, plates and bowls I need are located on the lower level her computer tells us, so I go back to the elevator.

In the meantime, I receive a push notification for an extra 20% off Ecko menswear.

I arrive on the lower level and directly in front of me is the Bella Triple Slow Cooker ($19.99 after rebate) that I wanted to get for my mom. So far it's serendipity: 1, app: 0 when it comes to locating a gift. (The rebate is a sheet of paper that needs to be mailed, however, a decidedly low-tech way to get people to forget about money they're owed.)

While the Macy's app may not be great at identifying where certain items are, it is great at telling me where I am. The map can even identify what floor I am on and lets me know if I'm looking at the layout of the first floor when I'm actually on the lower level.

Dinnerware is prominently listed on the app map, so I walk in that general direction. Sure enough, I find the Stax items many floors below the eighth floor. In order to ensure I have the correct item, I scan the barcode with the Macy's app's quick, incredible Scan feature and confirm that yes, this is the discounted item I was looking for.

The app tells me there are deals on Perry Ellis men's leather goods, so I think it's time to exchange my dad's Costanza-sized wallet for something more modern. Again, the location feature is not working well, so I must resort to speaking with a helpful Macy's employee. He shows me the items, and I buy a dopp kit ($17.99) because there's no way my dad is ever giving up on his monstrosity of a wallet.

By now, my battery is running low, so I go to the Starbucks to charge up and ponder what to buy my big sister. While sitting, I open up the Best Buy app I downloaded previously and start researching audio receivers. Before long, I find a well-priced ($199) Sony model that I'm comfortable buying. I create a Best Buy account, enter my shipping and billing information, opt for free item delivery to Chicago and confirm the purchase, all within a matter of minutes.

This purchase -- made on a Best Buy app from a Starbucks in Macy's -- is the easiest one of the night.

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