In case you woke up and found out you’ve been living in a cave all of your life, today is the very secular American holiday known as “Black Friday”. Black Friday sprung from the tradition of stores kicking off their Christmas sales the day after Thanksgiving, a practice which of course we know is about as dated as a nativity scene being found at a government building. While the retail world has generally adopted the day after Halloween as the new kickoff to the holiday shopping season, the extravagant spectacle of Black Friday continues on in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving dinner…. even if it now essentially takes the place of Thanksgiving dinner.
As most of you who follow my blog on a regular basis know, I work in retail. In particular, for the world’s largest retailer which I fondly refer to here as Mecca. We are notoriously known as the driving force behind moving Black Friday to Black Thursday in recent years, and have some of the biggest Black Friday bashes in the business. I am much more fortunate than most of my brothers and sisters in the retail field, and particularly fellow Mecca-ites. I usually get out of the festivities since the event falls during my normal nights off. While I am here drawing funny pictures and sharing my thoughts on this red letter shopping day, most of my co-workers are dealing with the masses who will stay up all night just to say they bought something for a deep discount…
I have worked the night of Black Friday on four occasions, however, so I do have the rather interesting perspective on the retail melee from an employee’s point of view. It really isn’t as bad as one would think if you go into it with the right attitude. The winning attitude is essentially to be an observer and not a participant, because there is something evilly compelling about watching a gaggle of otherwise sane and civil people fight each other over a dumbass Furby doll like it was the last piece of food on the planet. I have had to hold back grins and even giggles watching the outlandish and childish behavior of customers on Black Friday… and they won’t even notice you’re enjoying watching them turn into feral savages as long as you STAY OUT OF THEIR WAY!
That is really the whole key to surviving Black Friday from the retail worker’s point of view. Stand back and observe. Do not interfere with the free for all over the sale merchandise, and do not referee the fights or even attempt to break them up should they occur.
Sadly Fortunately, I have never seen a customer fight in my Black Friday experience. Just let the forces of nature and raw animal instincts that get released by sales like this take their course. The dead and the wounded can be properly cared for when the battle for cheap, shoddy goods is over.
The two most recent Black Fridays I worked, in 2009 and 2010, were in the aftermath of the 2008 tragedy at a New York Mecca where a worker got squished to death during the door rush. This caused Mecca to totally revamp its Black Friday plans and have all stores stay open all night with “queue lines” going up and down the regular aisles that customers could wait in for the hot items when they went on sale at their appointed times. They also tried to teach us about “crowd management skills”, which involved watching the boringest one hour video I have ever watched in my life as some monotone “crowd management specialist” taught us about ingresses, egresses, compression, compaction, and the importance of bicycle barricades. That all seemed fine and dandy, but crowd management is completely useless without some of this stuff…
As anyone who has ever worked in any kind of a service industry is well aware of, there are some people who just can not be properly reasoned with when they are clearly in the wrong, especially when they are caught up in the middle of a whole lot of hoopla. Just this past Tuesday night, my manager got chewed from one end of the store to another by a customer who was livid that we wouldn’t let him buy one of the TV’s we had in our Black Friday ad right then and there. This is the same kind of moron who would not understand why they can’t smoke while waiting in their queue line or take a leak in one of the Rubbermaid plastic totes instead of ask for a bathroom pass. There is no reasonable answer for people like this other than a generous facial of mace.
But no matter how large the unruly mob is we attract to our stores on Black Thursday/Friday, and no matter how much overhyped, low quality merchandise we happen to push out the door (so it can come back in returns the following week), the post-Thanksgiving mega sale is not the time retailers scoop up the most profit. That time is still to come…. the weekend before Christmas. When the countdown to Christmas gets down to mere hours, desperate shoppers will haul off whatever we happen to have on our shelves that could reasonably pass as a gift for all of those unimportant relatives and friends we compulsively feel the need to buy something for this time of the year. The small appliances, cookware, power tools, unpopular toys, and especially those cheesy-ass $5-20 gift sets that nobody in their right mind would ever actually want to receive will vanish quickly from the shelves like the product rapture had just occurred…. all of which have big, fat markups unlike the Black Friday merchandise, much of which is sold for little or even negative profit.
So whether you have already participated in this yearly spectacle, plan to attend a sale with more traditional hours this morning, or just plan on staying home and avoiding the whole crazy shebang… here’s hoping you have a most excellent and safe Black Friday. And if you’re one of the hardy souls who had to work a Black Friday event, or even if you’re one of those unsung heroes out there who still have to go to your job today (seriously, four day weekends are for schoolkids), we here at The Nest give you a most hearty salute, and our undying gratitude for helping prop up our 24/7/365 economy. I’ll be back with a more traditional Flashback Friday next week, but until then, remember…..