What It's Really Like To Work Retail On Black Friday

To an outsider, the scene may appear like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Men and women trampling each other, sometimes to the point of bloodshed, to snag a television or gaming console at a discounted price. But for 69 percent of Americans, it’s just the day after Thanksgiving.

Black Friday is the largest shopping day of the year and with retailers making around a fifth of their sales during the holidays, it marks the first day of the binge-buying season, as NPR notes.  

Department stores have been capitalizing on the post-turkey gluttonous day since the 20th century by sponsoring Thanksgiving Day parades, and relying on selling everything as cheap as possible in hopes of making a small profit. In short, it’s a one-day economic stimulus plan for retailers. And while retailers may profit, it’s those working the big day that often times pay the real price.

The term itself is rooted in disgruntled employees. 

In the 1950s, police officers in Philadelphia coined the phrase, "Black Friday," to describe the chaos that ensued when shoppers and tourists flooded the streets, in advance for the Army and Navy football game held on that Saturday. Police officers were not allowed to take the day off, and would often times be forced to work overtime to deal with the crowds and traffic. In turn, they would mourn the Friday before it ever began. 

Mikayla Cruickshank, who worked at a Younkers shoes department on a Black Friday, witnessed a woman punch another woman because she snagged a pair of shoes she wanted.

“People are honestly just straight up bitches when it comes to Black Friday,” she said.

And this sentiment is one many employees who have worked the Black Friday sales agree with. 

Lauren Karlsson who worked for nine hours straight at J.Jill clothing store one year, says grown women yelled at her repeatedly and the men were equally rude. 

“Some of the less enjoyable moments would include husbands shopping for their wives saying, 'She’s about your size, but skinnier.'"

While consumer spending keeps our economy growing and thriving, there’s something perverse about the ways in which the big day capitalizes on the competitive and animalistic nature that the human condition possess. 

“One second everyone is talking about how thankful they are for their family and friends, and then the next second they are punching old ladies for a pair of Easy Spirits,” said Cruickshank. 

But there is some psychology behind the intense need to want and at times fight for material objects. The social isolation and loneliness that comes with the holiday season is one that many people are forced to deal with. So, coping and attaching oneself to an object can provide a sense of comfort. But this sense of comfort can often times leave people forgetting the importance of humanity. And that while a deal is great, those who are working and allowing customers to receive deals, are just trying to make a living and do their job. 

Brandon Alexander, who worked at Buckle for three consecutive Black Friday sales said seeing the big shopping day from the employee side changed his entire outlook on shopping in general. 

“It makes you want to be as kind and nice as possible to the workers for having to sacrifice more than you think for your own materialistic ways,” he said. “You choosing to be kind to them could truly make or break their shift or day.”

And while the big day can provide stress and anxiety for many who work Black Friday, some employees thrive under the high pressure and constant commotion. 

“It wasn’t that bad. Not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Yeah, there was a lot of people and they were rushing and such, but it was never boring and the time flew by,” said Bill Ricetti, who worked at a Target. “Sometimes working a regular night where the shift drags on since it is so dead, is worse than a Black Friday rush.”

Gabrielle Bedell has worked nine Black Friday’s at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, and says the majority of their orders are catered orders for large department stores who are feeding their employees. 

“While some customers can be extremely rude and inconsiderate as their patience wears down, a lot of customers have great stories and are quite kind and enjoyable to interact with,” she said. 

Black Friday is rooted in consumerism at the expense of employees, regardless of how the employees are treated. But being mindful and respectful of those working the big shopping day is something that costs you nothing. A missed deal will not make or break your holiday season, so be polite and humane this shopping season.