By Megan Robb
I never liked the term “Black Friday”. I get that it comes from Christmas shoppers bringing businesses out of the red and into the black, but it still adds a funereal undertone to a time when we’re supposed to be celebrating our love of trans-fats. It also serves as a reminder that this very special day for business owners and shoppers comes at the cost of millions of retail workers’ sanity.
I’ve been a cashier on two different Black Fridays for the same retail chain. These were three years and several states apart, but as the second one was only last year, the memory’s still fresh in my mind. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the shopper’s end of Black Friday because I enjoy sleeping too much to find out, but I can see its appeal. Waking up in the middle of the night to do anything comes with its own surreal excitement, and it’s no different for mall workers. Last Black Friday at 4am, while everyone else was still sleeping off their tryptophan overdoses, I was scoring a 4-pack of energy shots at the gas station and driving to the parking lot of an insurance company’s headquarters with the then-latest Girl Talk album blaring in my car stereo. All of the mall’s employees had to use this parking lot, which was up the street from the mall itself, and then take shuttle buses to our respective stores. It worked this way every weekend until Christmas.
So when you’re circling the parking lot and cursing the lack of spaces during your post-Thanksgiving mall shopping, remember that the employees have done everything they’ve can to try to avoid this. It’s not just Black Friday, either. The days from Thanksgiving to Christmas bring out the true weirdness in shoppers. I’ve found that Black Friday shoppers before 12pm and Christmas Eve shoppers after 5pm are generally more patient: it’s the people in between that you have to watch out for. People want discounts for everything from a box having a worn corner to the day happening to be December 24th. Please get this straight: cashiers have no control over prices.
If you want to haggle, go to a mom-and-pop store and ask for Mom or Pop. Do not go to a department store and expect a pregnant high school student or career-stalled college grad to give you 50% off of a Snuggie simply because it’s been taken out of its box. It’s a shame that store cashiers don’t have the food court workers’ option of spitting on your purchases and considering justice served. It’s not all bad, though. Last year’s Black Friday also gave me one of my proudest moments, as I was the only cashier at my cash wrap from the peak hours of 5 to 10am.
Despite this blatant staffing error on my employers’ part, I did not receive any complaints, nor did I lose any customers to a different register. One person was visibly annoyed at waiting behind a particularly time-consuming customer, but it was nothing a coupon torn from the circular couldn’t immediately fix. I used the story of this feat of strength during job interviews afterwards and I’m convinced that it helped me. I will also admit that there’s a special camaraderie that builds among mall employees on and after Black Friday. We bring in breakfast treats and sometimes deliver wake up calls after break-room naps.
We’re all in the trenches together. And attention, shoppers: we all hate you.
Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com