I Survived Black Friday: 3 True Tales of Post-Thanksgiving Retail Madness

black fridayBlack Friday, the day that strikes terror into the hearts of retail employees across the nation, is upon us again, with its deep discounts, midnight store openings and lines of panting bargain-hunters poised to be the first through the door -- and to the cash register. So what's it like to work in a retail shop on Black Friday? Here are firsthand experiences:

Sleep Ahead Of Time, Hydrate And Smile

My name is Sarah. I'm 30. I work at Williams Sonoma as a part-time cashier. I arrived to work for Black Friday at 11:30 p.m., just before we opened at midnight.

My commute, which normally takes 15 minutes, took an hour. The exit to the mall was backed up for a mile – and this was at 11 p.m.!

I walked past the line of 100 people waiting to get in the door, and rushed to get my smock and hop onto the register. We opened the door and people pushed through like they were starving and grabbing their first meal in a week.

The line in the store was steady for my whole eight-hour shift. My feet were killing me. I really just wanted to shop, instead of endlessly ringing customers up.

Still, the only rude customer I had the whole time was a little old lady who was trying to purchase something that didn't come up right on the register, her words were, "Get it right lady, c'mon. Get your head together, figure this out." I grinned through it.

But half the people I waited on said that they felt sorry for me and asked me if I was doing OK. By the end of my shift I had been up for 24 hours and could barely smile at customers, let alone remember how to count change. The amazing food my co-workers brought in to share made up for it, though.

All in all, I learned that it's good to get paid time-and-a-half, no matter how hard you have to work.

Also, the Black Friday deals we had in our store were the same deals from a week earlier and continued after Friday too. Not sure why so many people wanted to buy on THAT Friday.

– By Sarah Jo

Tips And tricks For Black Friday Survival

Black Friday. Those are the two words every retail worker dreads, but every shopper loves. It's the day that shoppers get the best deals -- assuming they wake up at 2 a.m. and wait hours in line for the stores to open. Little sleep, long lines and crowded stores can create a recipe for disaster, as proven every year by news stories detailing accounts of shoppers gone mad, even as the madness of the day is just beginning. While the stress of the day to get the best gifts can take a toll on a shopper, please remember that there is always someone else whose day might be a bit more stressful than yours: the retail worker.

Every year, many retail stores hire new workers for the holiday season. Most who aren't prepared for the day usually don't last long, especially those who have little to no retail experience. When I was 16, I was hired on at my current job as a sales associate and I do remember being overwhelmed by having to juggle product knowledge, know all the product prices and answer the most outrageous questions. Now that I have seven holiday seasons under my belt, I'm a Black Friday veteran and have learned many tricks to surviving the day.

A word of advice: If you are the hiring manager, be very thorough in choosing what workers you decide to bring on board and give them plenty of time before the holiday madness to get into the swing of things. My workplace learned this the hard way by waiting until November.

One assistant manager hired on a worker who seemed normal at first, but quickly acted bizarre. Not only would she get the store's product information wrong, she'd make up stories to explain the wrong information. The top managers rarely worked with her and didn't believe our accounts of her outrageous behavior, so they brought her back on the next holiday season.

During a lunch break that next season, another seasonal worker in her second year said, "I didn't realize last year that she was British!" Puzzled, we peeked our heads outside the breakroom door. Sure enough, there she was, helping customers using a British accent! We caught her attempting to help in a German accent later that day. I guess that was enough for the managers to finally believe us, because she was never brought back. We also now do the hiring a few weeks before Halloween to make sure that we've got everyone trained and not making up stories and personas as they help customers.

Stores open and close at earlier and later hours this time of year. Black Friday's morning hours are usually the worst. If you're up for being a morning person that day, I suggest going for the opening shift: There's not that much traffic on the roads during the wee morning hours, you can grab a cup of joe to stay awake, your parking options are much better and by the time you're off you have your entire day ahead of you -- or at least an afternoon to eat leftovers and nap.

If you're one of those who are not into waking up at 4 a.m. to deal with the morning rush, and an afternoon-to-closing-time shift is more to your liking, be prepared to leave at least an hour early to find parking and make sure to bring lunch and snacks to keep you going throug a busy day and into the night. It's also wise not to make any plans for Black Friday night if you're working the last shift. Sure, your store hours may end at 9 p.m., but your store will look like a tornado has hit it and you will probably spend a few hours making it look good enough for the next morning.

Working on Black Friday, I've had shoppers verbally rip me to pieces when we've been out of certain merchandise. Retail staff realize that the customer is upset, but we aren't the ones who are in charge of the stock, and have practically no control over most such situations, including sale regulations and coupon rules. You're only shooting the messenger if you take out your frustration on a sales clerk over those things. And if it wasn't for people like me who work retail on Black Friday, you wouldn't have the chance to shop until you drop -- so be gentle.

– By Melissa Sue Johnson

Ready For Anything

My name is Kristina, I'm 23 and I survived Black Friday.

The department store was packed, customers crowding the aisles, and Christmas music playing in the air. It was a very interesting day to be working out on the sales floor at Kohl's. You see, that is a bit unusual for me, because I am a part of their freight team and I am usually working in the back of the store, not on the selling floor. I got the job just three months earlier, during Kohl's seasonal hiring phase. We were all trained our first day on the basics, then learned as we went.

Although I was more used to unloading and getting product out to the floor, I did have a little experience with filling and straightening shelves and helping customers. Unfortunately, that didn't prepare me for Black Friday. The store was the busiest that I had ever seen and I must have run up the steps in our back stockroom at least a dozen times, to find a product that had already sold out on the sales floor.

That brings to mind the saddest moments that I had that day. We had spent the week beforehand stocking the sales floor, making sure that there were plenty of toys and games for the boys and girls. There was plenty of everything, except for this one toy. We had a doll set on sale that came with a couple of outfits, and the few in stock had sold in the first hour. Customers were asking all day after that doll set, I even had several ask me and I wasn't working in toys. Every time I told a parent that it was sold out, it seemed to practically bring tears, as apparently that was the only doll that mattered.

The best part of Black Friday was that I was able to help so many more people than usual. I may have had to make the trip to the stockroom a dozen times, but I was able to help most of the customers find just what they needed. I could tell that they really appreciated the effort.

Through working that Friday, I learned a couple of things:

It really isn't necessary for shoppers to be at the store the minute it opens, or even the hour. As long as you make it before the sale ends, you're golden. At Kohl's, we have a device called the Kohl's Kiosk. With this, you can find the product that you are looking for, in the size and color that you want, and at the current sale price, and ship it anywhere for free.

I also learned that we have quite a lot of items in our back stockroom. So I know that if I go shopping for a product and I can't find it out on the sales floor, the best plan is to ask an associate to check the back stockroom. There's a very good chance that it is in stock.

Overall, Black Friday was a learning experience. I learned just how busy a store could be and just how grateful customers really are for friendly customer service.

– By Kristina Jenkinson

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