Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday


black friday

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We asked a former Best Buy sales associate, who worked five Black Fridays until 2013, to describe her experience.

"Black Friday" is no term of endearment, especially for the people who have to work in retail that day.

From retailers' perspectives, being "in the black" is a good thing - it means profits. For many of them, Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year.

But the name has darker origins. As Time reports, newspapers in the 1960s reappropriated the term Black Friday, which was originally used to describe the September 24, 1864 stock market crash and ensuing panic it caused, to describe the rush of crowds stores saw the day after Thanksgiving.
These days, to call it the most hectic day in retail is an understatement.

To get a better sense for what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday, we asked a former Best Buy sales associate, who handled customer service and worked as a cashier during five Black Fridays until 2013, to weigh in. Here's what she had to say about her experience:

Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday

Describe what it was like working on Black Friday.

"On the day, a couple hours before the store opened, customer service people and sales associates would go outside and start selling accessories, credit cards, and product protection plans. That was difficult because it was cold and the people looking for the doorbusters were less likely to get anything other than the product.

"Once the doors opened, the first few hours were craziness, a blur of customers and product.

"Then it started to slow down, and the rest of the day was like waves of calm and then tons of people. In between the craziness during times of calm, people were trying to clean up and return product back to the floor.

"I really think the best way to describe it is that it is a blur."

What was the incentive for retail employees to work on Black Friday?

"When I started the incentive was extra hours, and there was excitement about the rush of it. But as the shift moved toward Black Thursday, there really wasn't that incentive anymore. It was more annoying to come in on Thanksgiving. However, since you had to come in on a holiday, you got holiday pay."


How did scheduling on Black Friday work?

"Black Friday was tons of work and everyone was involved.

"It was pretty much all hands on deck, especially during that first initial rush of customers. And throughout the day there continued to be a steady flow of people, so everyone had to be available.

"This might have changed since I last worked Black Friday in 2013, but when I was there minors got the eight-hour shifts during the day. More experienced staff usually got a split shift, so one eight-hour shift from midnight to 8 am and then you came back at 3 pm or 4 pm to close.

"I think this has changed now because the store hours have changed, but before you could easily work 15 hours on Black Friday. Not too much anymore — everyone I know this year is scheduled to work 10 hours."

How far in advance did the store start prepping for Black Friday?

"November 1 is the normal beginning of the holiday season, but they started hiring seasonal employees in October because it gave them more time to train the newbies."

Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday

What was the training like?

"All new recruits got register training, sales associates got register training and department-specific training, and everyone got training on how to sell protection plans, including more senior employees, who got a refresher training on how to sell those plans faster.

"Everyone learned to sell protection plans because, honestly, that's where they make money.

"When I worked at Best Buy, the weekend before Black Friday, or a couple weekends before, the managers would put the registers in training mode and do a dry run of what the day would look like.

"So, for example, all the employees would get merchandise and run to the registers so the cashiers would get a feel of what the morning would be like. Some people would be really nasty, others would pretend to steal — it was actually kind of fun.

"One of my friends who still works there told me that they still hold a meeting and explain how the day will run, but they don't do the dry runs with the register anymore."

Were you taught how to handle violence outbreaks or any other worst-case scenarios?

"Not really. There was usually a manager at high-traffic points in my store, so they were there to deal with the issues. I was taught if there were any issues, get a manager."


What happened with the influx of inventory leading up to Black Friday?

"During my time, the inventory and merchandise team worked a ridiculous amount of hours, particularly the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That's usually when the main shipment of stuff came in and they had to put it all away and organized and make it readily available for customers. And then on Black Friday, there was another shipment and a rush to get that stuff out, too.

"During the holidays, the shipments to the store came more frequently with a lot more stuff. So the inventory team has to find space for everything. Some things like TVs needed to be well organized in the back, but a lot of things needed to go on the floor, so they filled the aisles with inventory, usually accessories.

"They sometimes also moved the carts outside so they could put inventory where the carts were inside the store. They would also sometimes start to stack laptops and computer stuff in the shelves overhead.

"Overall, the whole store was stuffed like a turkey, no pun intended."

Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday

Did you have any pep talks or morale-boosting activities leading up to the day, or on the day itself?

"The day of, mostly. Sometimes managers would do nice things like get coffee and doughnuts to keep everyone's spirits up. The first year I worked Black Friday managers paid for lunch."


Describe the mood at work in the time leading up to Black Friday.

"Mostly anxious, but then it got very hectic. The excitement only lasted for the first or second rush of people. Then it just started to feel like a regular busy day."

Overall, what was the most challenging part of the day?

"The worst part was the very long hours and the customers. Working through the night and working for 10 to 11 hours was tiring, and it was hard to keep up a peppy, happy face when you were exhausted.

"Often customers were not very understanding of this. They were often super tired and had either been up all night or had been waiting on lines all day, so they weren't in the best mood either. One or two cranky customers would completely ruin your day."


What do you think people would be surprised to learn about Black Friday?

"People did not just shop for the deals. I think there was just an excitement about shopping that day, so customers would buy whatever, and, because of that, on Saturday there was a lot of buyer's remorse and returning.

"Also, honestly, the sales were often better the week before Black Friday and the week right before Christmas. If you weren't crazy enough to sleep at the store the night before for a doorbuster, you were probably wasting your time because you could have bought beforehand for the same price or waited until closer to Christmas."

Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday

What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen working Black Friday?

"This is a difficult question because I haven't seen anything completely crazy that people haven't reported before. I have seen a mother crying because her son really needed the newest Xbox for Christmas. I've seen customers fighting on line. I've seen a customer wait outside for two days in order to get a doorbuster — that one was ridiculous."


Did anyone ever try to bribe you or curry favor in some other way?

"Not me because I didn't work on the floor as a sales associate. But some of the sales associates would get people asking them to put something away for them or asking them for a call if something got returned. Sometimes people would try to slip them some money, and I honestly don't know if any of them accepted."

Describe the aftermath once it was all over.

"The store was a mess and everyone was exhausted. There was also a feeling of 'Thank God that's over.' But by the end of the day, everything had to get cleaned up and ready for Saturday, because that's another very busy day."

Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday

Once you worked your first Black Friday did it get easier the following years?

"Yes. You get used to the crowds and having to work at a faster pace."

What tips would you offer someone working retail on Black Friday?

"Breathe, eat, and drink tons of coffee. Also, customers are crazy, but its not personal, so don't take it personally."


And what tips would you offer shoppers?

"Patience is a virtue. And if you don't get what you were looking for on Black Friday, there will be another sale."

Here's what it's really like to work retail on Black Friday

What has working on Black Friday taught you?

"In my opinion, working on the other side of Black Friday, I feel that it's really not worth it to rush through time with your family on Thanksgiving just to save $10 on a video game. It's just not worth it."


In general, how do you feel about Black Friday shopping?

"I love Black Friday shopping. I do it every year, and I think it's fun.

"However, I refuse to go out on Thanksgiving afternoon. I think it's ridiculous businesses have invaded Thanksgiving — my favorite holiday — to save a few dollars. I'm hoping that eventually it goes back to Black Friday actually being on Friday and not on Thanksgiving."

Responses have been edited for clarity.