BY MARIE VEILLETTE
An out-of-season Black Friday sale was the cause of some excitement for MSUM students last Tuesday. iMac computers were sold at a price not to be found at any retailer.
Each computer cost $30 and came with a keyboard and mouse. Sixty were available for purchase, with approximately 150 people in line to buy one at the time the sale began. The computers were taken from different labs on campus, after being used for over seven years, according to Daniel Heckaman, chief information officer in the IT department. The computers were new when they first came to campus.
With a deal this good, it is understandable that the line to get one would be long. Mara Wessel, a Graduate Assistant for intramurals and club sports was the first one in line for a computer, arriving at 4 a.m. for a sale that did not begin until 8 a.m. She soon realized the line was getting long, the entry way to the library was getting full and the line was getting out of order, so those who had gotten there earlier were now behind people who had come later.
“We decided that we should make numbers on Post- its, so that the people who arrived early would be guaranteed a computer. This was the only fair way to do it. After 40 we stopped doing the numbers because it got so packed. … We really tried to take a leadership role in the event, even though IT had not asked us to,” Wessel said.
Maggie Olson, an English junior, was also at the sale. She arrived at 6 a.m. to an already extensive line, hoping to buy a computer for some family members who don’t currently have access to one. Olson had also attended the first sale of the iMac computers, which took place on Dec. 21, but had been unable to get one of the 30 being offered at that sale.
Olson was grateful Wessel had taken the initiative to make a number system. “There was no organization of any kind in terms of regulating the crowd,” she said.
“I would suggest doing a number system to ensure it is first come, first serve. It seems like the only safe way to do it,” Wessel said.
When asked why the IT department did not hand out numbers to people waiting, Heckaman said, “I guess we’re still learning how to create an efficient and effective process. Certainly we learned from this event.”
A large part of the problem with the crowd was the lack of room for forming a line. Since the library is under construction, the lobby where people were waiting in line is especially small. With temperatures hovering around minus 17 degrees, it was unsafe to have the line extend out the door. The line was not allowed to back up into the library itself, so people crammed in the lobby to a point that Olson called “claustrophobic.”
“This is a marvelous opportunity to put otherwise unaffordable technology in the hands of students, and I appreciate very much that they did this sale, but frankly there were times when I literally didn’t feel safe,” Olson said.
Wessel also commented on the cramped space as a factor contributing to the Black Friday feel and offered a suggestion to “hold the sale in the ballroom or a bigger area, so we wouldn’t have to stand packed together.”
Another concern was that people were not limited to buying only one iMac. “We’d like to only allow one piece of equipment per person, but in this case, we had some process breakdowns and allowed people to purchase two,” Heckaman said. “This entire process has a goal of trying to provide a reasonable set of equipment to those that need it. It’s hard for me to understand why any one person who has a need, needs more than one device.”
Erik Moen, a social studies junior and student employee at the IT department said, “Personally, I would like to see a limit of one per person, and I’m sure that is something that will be taken into account in future sales.”
However, due to the great amount of negative feedback the department is getting about how the sales were conducted and executed, the possibility of holding another is looking less likely.
“Unfortunately, at the rate at which the department receives harsh criticism, I would not be surprised if there were no future sales. Since the sale takes a significant toll on the employees’ time in setting up computers for sale, advertising, arranging and so on, without the positive feedback or constructive criticism, IT employees are becoming disgruntled and discouraged by the thought of future sales,” Moen said.
“We’re certainly discussing the pros and cons of trying to do this [sale] again. We feel in the end it’s worth it for those students who have a need, but certainly this isn’t going to work if people aren’t willing to deal with some snags here and there,” Heckaman said.
Despite the concerns Olson and Wessel brought up, both had positive feelings on selling the equipment to students rather than to a buy back vendor.
“It’s really great they do this, and I hope they don’t stop,” Olson said.
“It was a fun experience, and I am grateful to IT and to the University for allowing the students to have opportunities like these,” Wessel agreed.
Moen wanted students to “know that likelihood of another sale is diminishing quickly unless they change their attitude. I’m sorry that not everyone was able to get a computer, but during an open house clearance sale there is no business that I know of that will guarantee you the product you desire. Bottom line is that I am a student, there are students that need these sales as they cannot afford a full priced computer, and I sincerely hope we as a community have not wasted this great opportunity to help disadvantaged students out.”
“The IT department is doing the best they can and are learning,” Moen stressed.