Essays & Confessions

4 Black Friday Horror Stories From A Former Retail Worker

By Friday, November 27, 2020

Ever see a sales floor turn into a boxing ring?

Or a woman faint over a handbag (and I’m not talking in the overdramatized, hyperbolic sense). If not, consider yourself fortunate, because it probably means you never worked in retail hell.

 I, on the other hand, have had the (dis)pleasure of working in the retail space for years. And if there is one day retailer workers dread most, it’s *pause for dramatic effect — dun dun dun* Black Friday!

Now, to be clear, having a job at any given time — especially in these times — is not only a blessing, but a privilege. And while I haven’t worked in customer service or retail sales for years, I still count the experience as one that was A) clutch when I was strapped for cash, and B) comedic. Well, “comedic,” in the sense of, “One day you’ll look back at this, and laugh.”

 And so, I did. And still, I do.

 So if you’re in the mood to laugh, too, consider me the ghost of Black Fridays past as I reflect on my top horrific moments as a former retailer employee. Oh, and, these recounts are 100% authentic — both sadly and scarily enough.

 

1. Black Friday Fight Club

Let’s get ready to rumble! I’ll never forget the first Black Friday fight I witnessed. It was post-Thanksgiving Friday in 2009. While working the sales floor and assisting a customer with a query on a handbag, I (along with the other customers and employees in the store), overheard a young lady tell another woman, “B*tch, I’ll kick your f*cking ass!”

Immediately after the outburst, the loudness of the store turned into a lull and all was quiet. When my eyes darted to the checkout line, I noticed that two people in the line, a teenage girl and a woman old enough to be her mother, were getting ready to physically come to blows. Both already placed their bags down and the younger lady was in defense mode, fists balled up, and ready to strike. Thankfully, one of our guys from the stock room, *Max, was replenishing the shelves with merchandise and was on the floor. Max immediately intervened and got in between the two women, placing both of them at arm’s length, on opposite sides of him.

However, that wasn’t enough.

The older woman attempted to move around him to strike the younger one anyway. Crazy enough, in the end, we found out the girl was only 15. Granted, she was equally rowdy, but I do think it was wrong for an adult to enable a teen to fight, especially after the situation has been deescalated. Thankfully, Max acted as a human shield, and the older woman missed the hit.

However, because both parties refused to diffuse their anger after that, Max turned into a makeshift security guard and legit yelled for both of them to calm down or risk the chances of getting “kicked out of the line.” Thankfully, the looming threat of having their buying privileges revoked was enough to make them behave. Sadly, it took the looming threat of having their buying privileges revoked to make them behave.

2. Punched On The Clock

I know, the sound of that headline sounds dramatic, right? So if you’re trying to figure out whether or not I was literally punched in the face, or figuratively punched in the face, please spare yourself the headache and not overthink it. The answer is yes; I was literally, physically, punched in the face.

Now, not to be dramatic, I was not the actual target. I was merely just a causality of a shopping war. One Black Friday, while working at my former “high-end” retail job, our store, while closed for Thanksgiving day, re-opened at midnight Friday. That means that after an evening of feasting and drinking with friends and family, I had to report to work at 10 PM Thanksgiving Thursday. For two hours, we prepped and set up the shop to display all of our marked-down items for the taking.

 

If that wasn’t bad enough, people really began to show up to the store hours before opening, and quite the line had already formed by the time we were ready to open. Once we opened the front door, the madness quickly ensued. It didn’t take long before a man, who was attempting to buy in bulk in order to resell the items on his eBay store (yes, we had a lot of those types), got into it with a woman who just wanted one bag from his collection.

Now, I must preface this story by saying that, on Black Friday and for the days leading up to the holidays, we hand out shopping bags the size of large trash bags. I’m not kidding. That’s because the merchandise we sold was pretty large (large purses), and customers will shop for anywhere between one bag to 33 bags (33 being the record I was witness to).

Anyway, on this particular Black Friday, this guy, who was also a repeat resale offender, legit cleared an entire shelf of bags the same style, design, and color. The woman was asking to just have one of the handbags in his massive shopping tote. He said “No” with an attitude and she flung her arm at him, and unfortunately, she caught me in the face instead. Fortunately, it was a mix between a closed and open fist hit, and honestly, not too big of a hit. She was also extremely embarrassed and apologetic towards me. Ironically, prior to the hit, I actually came over to tell the woman we had a ton more of those bags in the back. 

3. Shop ‘Til You Drop — Literally

Black Friday shopping is not for the faint of heart. Now, let’s be clear. By the time I got around to working retail, Black Fridays (and the protocols that come with working them), existed long before my time. My employer definitely had a solid plan of action and workflow that, if followed correctly, would get customers in and out of the store. From the outside of the store, we had line markers to regulate order. Employees (myself included) handed out small candies and snacks, as well as bottles of water. Once inside (remember, this was pre-pandemic) we allowed people to fill in, so long as it was below capacity. Our shop was large, and we had a large capacity limit.

Then, we had a line system inside the store, regulated mainly by the maze-like system of stanchion rope and retractable belt barriers. Since the cash wrap already knew how to move through money, cards, and customers with ease (with the exception of the occasional haggler), the line was designed to be smooth, but it rarely ever moved that way.

As you can imagine, this would often create pockets of moments where the store was closer to capacity than not. One woman came into the store, possibly already dehydrated from having waited in the outside line, to then come into a warm store full of hot bodies, and more than likely had been out shopping all day, and well, she fainted.

Yes, she passed out near the display table. She had several shopping bags on her that ironically broke her fall. So the same thing that was “killing” her (shopping) also saved her.

 

 Sadly, the other shoppers didn’t care, because while our security guard left his post at the door in order to assist the injured, people “rushed” in, with one person stepping over the woman.

I was beyond disgusted at the no-f*cks-given mentality of consumers. Security yelled for everyone to clear the way to give the customer room to breathe. Travis was also in EMT training to be a firefighter, so he immediately put on his “first responder” thinking cap, and asked me to grab water, while he helped get the woman outside for fresh air. She survived.

While you’d think the experience was enough to make anyone want to go home, hydrate, and get rest, that wasn’t the case here. After swearing up and down that she felt better, the customer actually asked if she could go back inside. However, due to liability reasons, we kindly denied her access to the store for the remainder of that Black Friday.

4. Mob Ties

While you’d think being witness (and partial victim) to all of the above is horrific enough, to me, what’s truly freaky about Black Friday is the blatant display of toxic consumerism.

Remember those lines I mentioned that tend to form outside of the store? Well, sometimes they don’t always “stay lines.” Instead, they form into just groups of shoppers with a mob mentality, blocking the door, trying to get in. The look in the eyes of adults willing to tear up a store, punch through people, and walking over anyone to get 30% off is just…terrible.

While working the door as a store greeter, during the times when the door was closed, and people anxiously awaited to go in, I was cursed at, talked down to and much more. All because people in our microwave-raised society hate to wait.

Image via Unsplash

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