Banes & Notables: Beware of Friday the 28th 


Two of our retail vets revisit and relay the horrors of Black Friday

It is an ugly paradox that the darkest day for retail workers should be the most looked forward to by business owners. Only those in the thick of the action of the shoppers’ holiday could have deemed the day “black.” 

The lines will form around 4, maybe 4:30 a.m., around the same time that sales associates will be rolling out of bed. Insomniacs will enter retail doors at 5 and 6 a.m. to cash in on special discounts as retail workers scramble to prepare displays and end caps, tie down those very important balloons and open cash registers. Cheery holiday shoppers will cascade future gifts into their carts, while irritated bargain hunters will rummage through once-neat shelves to find their brother’s size shoe or their niece’s favorite book. 

For the Black Friday shopper this is pure shopping excitement. This is the X-Games for consumers, the medals given out to the first shopper to grab the cheapest DVD player or the jacket marked down 60 percent. The associates will be demanded to find products, sizes, all the while being expected to deliver perfect customer service. If your store doesn’t have that video game, that size in that ugly pair of shoes, they ask if you could check another store. You call the other store, but the fact is that store is swamped too. You will wait on the line for 10 minutes; the customer gets furious, screams, then storms off through the automatic sliding doors to some other store to hunt for equally worthless items. 

Those DVD players, bicycles and other items with slashed prices have slashed prices for a reason. Black Friday is simply the day that retailers pull out all the tricks to sell us total crap that we think we need. 

Black Friday is everything terrible about retail amplified – amplified and spun around and flipped upside-down on its head. For every customer who comes into the store on an average day asking you to look for something nonexistent, at least 10 more will come in on Black Friday. For every person who leaves merchandise messes in the isles, at least 40 will.

And it is your job to mediate the chaos.  

There is no getting out of working Black Friday, either. You thought by thinking ahead you might be able to request the day off months in advance – your uncle was coming into town, you would be volunteering for charity. You foresaw that your dog was going to eat a leftover turkey bone. But all envisioned excuses were shattered by the thick, black Sharpie marker your manager used to block out November 28 on the calendar, “No requests off.”

Prisoners are allotted no mercy.

There isn’t a best shift to work on Black Friday. It’s a lose-lose situation regardless if you work the opening or closing shift. You can come in the morning (though the sun won’t rise for several hours) and put up with the ravaging hoards of shoppers, or you can work the night shift and clean up after the ravaging hoard of shoppers. What beautiful choices. 

But the nightmare that is Black Friday could be completely different. With the economy joyfully riding its own rollercoaster and consumers scared of the shadows cast by their bank accounts and credit card debt, Black Friday could be a dead day. If a store doesn’t come out with a huge sale, their doors will open at 5 a.m. to no one but Wal-Mart employees scurrying to work. 

Schools and businesses give us the day after Thanksgiving off as a “family day,” which, somewhere in the spread of American history, came to constitute a family ritual of 10-hour shopping trips.  Corporations fuel this tradition by slashing their prices for one day.  This is how we buy Christmas presents for each other. Or how we find affordable stuff for ourselves. 

Finding affordable deals at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, the day that we celebrate all that we have. There really is nothing like hunting for what you want after cherishing what you have.