Two Black Fridays ago, I was working as an Assistant Manager at the Abercrombie Kids store. The entire month of November, we tried to get our staffing numbers up to handle the holiday season demand. We failed miserably, so we went into Black Friday with approximately half of the part-time employees we should have had. It was a long day.
Luckily, I was scheduled for the mid-shift. The store manager would open the doors at midnight and the other assistant would close the store again 23 hours later. The mall I worked in had all three Abercrombie stores (A&F, Hollister, Kids), so most employees set some things aside in the adult store stockroom so we could buy what we needed on Black Friday and ensure they hadn’t sold out already.
I walked into the mall at 5am and went to the adult store to pay for the bag of clothes I’d hidden away. Oddly, I walked right up to the counter since all the crazy Black Friday shoppers must have been there at midnight and the more reasonable folks wouldn’t arrive until 6 or 7am. So I bought a few things at 50% off and went downstairs to work.
It was pandemonium. People think that the more expensive Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister stores are crazier on Black Friday, and maybe they’re right, but the Kids store is no laughing matter. It was a sea of angry mothers, stripped mannequins, crumpled clothing, and wide-eyed employees. The deafening music was barely audible over the roar of the crowd. When I got into the stockroom everyone cheered. They were so glad to see me.
If only I’d realized that was a bad sign.
Upper Management realized that no one would be leaving for breakfast/lunch/dinner breaks, so they thoughtfully kept sandwich and pizza orders rolling throughout the day. I worked harder, under more stressful circumstances that day, than I ever had before or since. I stood in my uniform flip-flops for well over 10 hours and I don’t remember sitting down once.
The day was a blur. I know we sold over $100,000 and a lot of the region stores did better than that. We beat our goal, so the managers got some bonuses for the effort. But I only remember snapshots.
Everyone had to work that day, there were no excuses. Some of the part-timers were scheduled for the entire time (with long breaks). They were on from 11pm Thanksgiving night to 12:30am Saturday, which puts my paltry 10 hours in perspective. People slept on stockroom shelves behind dwindling piles of jeans and hoodies.
Any semblance of order on the floor quickly dissipated. The line of irate customers grew and shrank as the shopping tides ebbed and flowed. We ran out of bags and had to take some from the A&F upstairs. We ran out of gift boxes and didn’t bother to get any more. We ran out of $1 bills and had to make change in the convenience mart at the other end of the mall.
At one point, the store manager came back after she’d clocked out. I have no idea what possessed her to do such a thing. She found me in the stockroom trying to eat while checking our sales figures and let me have it. She was one of those angry bosses that everyone was afraid of. She yelled and screamed about how I was supposed to be on the floor, these people can’t stay back here, they have to get back to work, and so on. Eventually she left again and we all got on with our day.
Black Friday (or Black Thursday as it’s rapidly becoming) is very different as a retail employee. When I remember that day, two years ago, it isn’t with revulsion or terror, it’s with excitement. That day was so crazy, so demanding, so out of control, it was more of a roller coaster ride than a tedious day at work. We were stretched so thin for so long, that I’m surprised no one had a mental breakdown. It was a challenge that I survived.
So, if you go out shopping this Black Friday, please be kind and considerate to the workers you interact with. They might be bleeding from stepping on a security sensor pin after having their boss shout at them for not smiling enough. And if you don’t see the size you’re looking for, don’t expect much more than a desperate stare when you ask them to check in the back.