Black Friday

It always amuses me when people complain about black Friday. I’ll admit that I’ve done it, but then I’ve also worked it, along with Christmas Eve and the days in between.

I worked at the K-Mart (store #3447) in Clive, Iowa, from November 1998 to August 1999. On Black Friday 1998 I had to clock in at 5:30am. And when I arrived, there was already a long, long line of people waiting to get in. My brother worked at the nearby Target on the corner of 35th and University in West Des Moines, Iowa, and had a similar report time that morning.

My lucky parents got to sleep in that day.

Interestingly that day we had a computer glitch as well. The “door buster discounts” were supposed to end at 11am, but a computer glitch meant those prices didn’t expire, so the customers kept getting the discounts for, I think, about two hours beyond where they were supposed to. We didn’t inform the customers of the glitch, obviously, so those who got the discount were surprised and pleased while those who did not get the discounts after the glitch was finally repaired didn’t seem to notice it, from my perspective at least.

At the same time, working Black Friday and Christmas Eve (reporting at 6:00am), working mostly late evenings in between (the store was open till midnight for the two weeks preceding Christmas) gave me one hell of a sense of humility. I empathize greatly with those who are being scheduled to work those days. My work in retail allows me to empathize with cashiers in general and gives me an enormous amount of patience with the cashiers at retail outlets.

Because I’ve been there.

So setting that aside for now, I wonder why people, most of whom I’m sure don’t work retail (and probably haven’t at the large big-box stores or a shopping mall), complain about Black Friday while showing up on Black Friday. If you want to end the Black Friday madness, stay home. But the problem is you need to convince everyone else to do the same. The retailers know customers will show up. And they try to give sweeter deals than their competitors to ensure they’ll show up.

At the same time, to ensure their employees show up, the larger outlets likely also provide overtime pay for working those days or something similar – this could be on a location-by-location basis and varies from company to company. They are not required to do so under Federal labor laws. I don’t recall if I received an overtime rate for my time – we’re talking 15 years ago – but I have heard of retailers doing so.

Trust me when I say that the employees don’t really want to be there. Would you want to be stuck behind a cash register on Black Friday while thousands of screaming, annoyed, impatient customers push through your line, berating the cashiers for every little thing, eyeing the register display like a hawk, ready to pounce on any little perceived discrepancy, knowing the discrepancy will cause at least a 2 minute delay in everyone behind that person getting checked out, especially with the discount cutoff time approaching? Of course not.

But if they’re getting an overtime rate, or an even sweeter deal than that, they’ll put up with it while wishing time could go by faster so their next break time will approach sooner. But that’s presuming they even get their full break as most retailers require employees to assist customers on the floor, because saying “I’m on break” or “I’m off my shift” is not an excuse to not help a customer. And helping that customer could lead to being required to help another, and soon half of what should’ve been a half-hour break could be gone, because the up-front supervisor expects that when they send you on a half-hour break, you’re back on your register in a half-hour, regardless of what happens between the moment you leave and the moment you get back.

There’ve been days where my 15-minute breaks were cut down to just 5 minutes due to this, and my half-hour lunch breaks were less than 15 minutes. And on busy days like Black Friday, they’ll be watching your time away like a hawk as well. The only excuse I could make for not getting back to my register when I was supposed to is helping a customer on my way back up to the register.

But then when you’re a cashier during a busy time like Black Friday, time actually does fly by pretty quickly. Your eyes gloss over in the middle of it, but your breaks and the end of the shift come quicker than you realize, even if you’re not able to get out the door when you want because customers will intercept you on the way to clock out, and might even intercept you on the way out the door after you’ve clocked out if they can recognize that you’re an associate. Because, again, saying “I’m on break” or “I’m off my shift” isn’t an excuse to not help a customer.

So to everyone complaining about Black Friday, I propose two options.

1. Shut up about it. All of the complaining isn’t going anywhere. About all you can do to affect the problem is just not show up on Black Friday, but with millions of other customers actually showing up, the retailers have no incentive to change course. Instead knowing what does get the customers showing up, they actually have more incentive to keep going on present course.

2. Work it. That’s right, I said work it. If you are so concerned about the employees who have to work Black Friday instead of spending time with their families, take their place. Apply to work at these retailers for the holiday season so you can take their place behind a register and on the floor during the holiday shopping season.

After all, the holidays are supposed to be about giving and charity, so sacrifice your time and energy so someone else can have theirs.

Unless you’re actually going enter into some kind of major marketing campaign to convince millions of Black Friday shoppers to stay home Thanksgiving night and Black Friday morning, all you’re doing is wasting energy and producing more carbon dioxide by complaining. So expend energy in a productive direction. Either shut up about it, convince millions of holiday shoppers to stay home over Thanksgiving weekend, or apply to work at those retail outlets so others can have their holiday weekend.

And if you’re not willing to do the latter, if you balk at the idea, then, please, just shut up and get back into the checkout line.