Black Friday — From the Other Side

I used to work in retail and Black Fridays were like a death hole of shopping.

None of the workers in my store could enjoy Thanksgiving because we were approaching the next day with fear and loathing. We had to show up on our scheduled work day before Thanksgiving and also our scheduled hours on Black Friday, or we wouldn’t get our holiday pay for Thanksgiving. In other words, if we didn’t show up on Black Friday we lost TWO days pay. That was our incentive to show up.

My first Black Friday was by far the worst. We didn’t open until 6 a.m. but they opened the store 20 minutes earlier without warning (while we were still opening registers) and the lines were long by 6 a.m. The lines snaked down the aisle and around the escalator.

The customers were difficult but it was MANAGEMENT that made us miserable. I quickly decided that retail management intelligence must be an oxymoron. Of course they weren’t the ones who had to ring the customers up and deal with their anger when they continually changed the rules.

Our store manager – from here on known as THE GENIUS – knew that there were MORNING coupons for $10 off a $10 purchase. Can you imagine such havoc such a coupon caused? FREE STUFF! Now I know that was an idiotic corporate decision, not the store manager’s fault, but she still somehow managed to make it even worse.

There was only supposed to be one coupon per customer. Guess what? THE GENIUS decided the customers could have as many of these free stuff coupons as they wanted! These customers must have bought dozens of newspapers for the coupons! Of course it was a MORNING sale but the “morning” went from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

THE GENIUS also decided that our 9.99 store brand towels could be included in this promotion. So for every one of these towels the customer brought to us, we had to manually change the price to 10.00 (easy, but time-consuming). THE GENIUS also decided that we were supposed to ring up each towel (while changing the price and scanning their accompanying coupon) SEPARATELY (in separate transactions). Some of these people had 25 towels and the line was HUNDREDS of customers long. This was incredibly time-consuming. After a few minutes of this I just decided “to hell with it!” and rang up all of a customer’s towels TOGETHER and scanned all of their coupons all on the same transaction. What difference did it make anyway? They were getting them FREE! The managers never said a word to me afterward.

The merchandising manager had decided that there was only going to be ONE stock person — for the whole store — from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. He not only had to put stuff out on the floor but take customer-bought stuff down to customer pick-up – stuff in housewares, bedding and china can be VERY heavy.

Customers wanted their items sent down to customer pick up but there was NO ONE to do it. We had to call the stock kid over the radio but the poor kid – an excellent worker BTW – was completely overwhelmed by having to do this for the ENTIRE store – I felt so bad for him. The paid-for stuff sat by our registers for hours and we kept tripping over it. Finally customers started STEALING stuff out of those bags (for which others had already paid.) I finally called my extremely lazy department manager and told him this. That finally got his lazy ass in gear and he started taking some of this stuff to customer pick-up even though it was BENEATH him (and he made sure that I knew this).

But even worse than Black Friday was the NEXT day, Saturday. Word had spread that there was FREE STUFF! and there were even more customers waiting to get in! The same sales were on Saturday morning but now THE GENIUS decided that customers could only use THREE of the coupons (remember that there was only supposed to be one per customer to begin with). Many of the customers in line had been there the day before and had come back armed with fresh coupons. When they find out that they could only use THREE that day instead of as many as they wanted, havoc ensued. There was nearly a riot.

Customers started screaming at us and refusing to leave, management started screaming at us because the lines came to a complete standstill, and it was a nightmare. Remember this is at 6 a.m. I’m cranky and tired and struggling with PMS – you don’t want to mess with me when I have PMS! I’m trying so HARD not to start sobbing. I was always very good with customer service but this was just too much!

One customer was reeking of heavy perfume. Because of my exhaustion and lack of sleep, this triggered my allergies (I’m allergic to perfume, wool, dust, etc.). I started sneezing uncontrollably and feeling even more wretched. Finally at 7:30 I had had ENOUGH. PMS combined with a fierce headache combined with miserable allergies drove me over the edge. Fortunately by this time more salespeople had showed up. I called a manager over and told them I felt sick and was going home. I had to call my mother to pick me up and I went home and went to bed for the rest of the day. I really felt terrible and did not feel the least bit guilty.

 When I came in the next day (Sunday) all of the towels were gone — and so were the customers — no more free stuff! The funniest thing though is that later some customers tried to return some of the free towels and thought we were going to give them money back!

Fortunately the next year things were better organized. The morning coupons were changed to $10 for a $25 purchase. Still incredibly busy but nothing like that first year. The biggest problem is that you can’t use a morning coupon on morning specials — the customers just LOVED that *insert sarcasm*.

I also had a better department manager who wasn’t so frigging lazy as the first one. He was actually nice, although he was later fired for stealing from the store – he had a gambling problem.

So my favorite time of year to NOT be working in retail anymore is Black Friday. I so enjoy sleeping late, and not dealing with crazy management and customers. I plan to sleep late and then sit in my chair and read books all day.

The sad thing is that I really enjoyed helping customers under normal circumstances. Sometimes I really miss it — but not enough to work evenings, weekends, holidays, and be available 24/7 during the Christmas season.

The sad thing is that retailers don’t really give a fig anymore about customer service — I was continuously told that I was TOO helpful and spent TOO MUCH TIME with the customers. The stores only care about sales and SELLING CREDIT CARDS.

I could tell you stories . . .

Written for and linked to

Mama’s Losin’ It

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  1. Ugh, sounds miserable! Lucky you got out early before they started opening the stores earlier than 6am. Opening at 8pm on Thanksgiving??!! Seems so wrong. But I guess its all in the spirit of gluttony, be it gastronomic or commercial! Happy Thanksgiving! (found you via Mamakat).

  2. Thank you for posting this, I don't think that a lot of people realize what it is life for the people working at the stores. I loved the video about stuff!!!! I agree that we all have too much stuff.

    I had it easy on Thanksgiving Day when I worked for Directory Assistance. No one calls for a telephone number then. I used to bring a book and read, got a call about once an hour and we got double time and a half. Black Friday was just a regular day, the calls were back to normal along with the pay.

  3. The store I used to work at is now opening at 12 midnight on Black Friday. I think that I would actually have preferred to work those hours, since I couldn't sleep the night before anyway.

    Quite frankly, I don't understand those people who will tear out to the stores on Thanksgiving Day to "buy presents for family", instead of spending TIME with their families.

  4. Nightmare!!!! I don't have to work retail to see that one. Black Friday brings out the worst in everyone. Who in the world invented that one? I don't do Black Friday's and never plan to. It's a day that needs to go down in history as the worst day of the entire year!

  5. Totally agree. I worked retail one Christmas when I was in high school and swore that if there was any way to avoid it I would never work in a store at Christmas…and this was before they ever invented Black Friday. I love my computer and the UPS man.