Memories from a Black Friday

I’ve already made it clear that I was #TeamBlackFriday. While many of my escapades are minor instances, in my years of shopping, there’s one particular Black Friday that sticks out. And it was one of few times I was on the other side of the madness.

I worked Babies R Us for a little over 5 years. At this time, I was working the cash office, which meant I would come in a few hours before the store opened and balance the tills from the night before.

This was a time in the company when, for whatever reason, they were trying to “separate” the Babies R Us stores from parent company Toys R Us, making them individual brands. A ridiculous idea that ultimately failed, but whatever. It meant that we at BRU couldn’t use anything from TRU – sales, coupons, even gift cards were to be completely independent.

While Toys R Us is one of the kingpins of Black Friday, the whole holiday season was actually a notoriously slow time at BRU. The thought was baby showers were on the minimum, and baby gifts could be purchased at department stores or toy stores instead of making a trip to a specialty store. We didn’t have extended hours, hardly had any sales. It was the atypical retail experience during the holidays.

This fine Black Friday in particular, we didn’t have any special sales. Didn’t open early. It was supposed to be just another day, maybe even a little slower than usual.

Cory and I shopped in the early morning hours, before he dropped me off to begin my short cash office shift. I was locked in the tiny cash office, counting, verifying, wrapping. When the tills were balanced, I was let out to prepare the registers.

As I stocked each drawer, I noticed some people waiting by the entrance. Unusual. We didn’t open for another half hour or so. Seemed like a waste of Black Friday time to me, but hey, who was I to judge?

As opening shift employees came in, they wondered too what the growing crowd was about.

Finally, at opening, the doors were unlocked. And so was the madness.

The people waiting burst into the door, grabbing one, even two, of our large purple shopping carts and bolted straight to the back of the store, leaving us employees startled and confused.

In the back corner of the store was the “Commodities” section – formula, baby food, and … diapers. Diapers are expensive. And babies use a lot of them. A LOT. The diapers where on rolling rack shelves, so the could be fed from the back end down the rack to the front.

The crazed customers whipped boxes of store brand diapers off the shelves. They loaded their carts, boxes stacked as high as they would balance. Once they could take no more, they dragged their loaded carts to the Guest Service register. The woman behind the register, a long-time cashier who didn’t fluster easily, started scanning the boxes. That’s when the first customer started to panic.

“But they’re on sale.”

The cashier looked at the customer, then the register screen. She hit a few buttons, then shook her head.

“No, sir, I’m sorry. They’re not on sale.”

“Yes, they are. It’s the Black Friday Sale.” The edge in his voice was a warning.

“Sir, we don’t have any Black Friday sales.” She stood her ground, but the growing line of diaper boxes spoke another tale.

Our manager finally figured out the issue. So, she tried to explain, “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have the same sales as Toys R Us. We’re different.”

Which is a ludicrous explanation. And the customers, desperate to save on this expensive necessity, wouldn’t budge. It took a bunch of phone calls and special permission for us to grant the discount, which had to be entered manually for each box purchased, and only 2 employees, one being the manager herself, had allowances to alter the pricing, meaning only two registers were up and running.

When we got word the sale was on, it was all hands on deck. Not even in uniform since I wasn’t expecting to be on the floor at all, I joined the troops and dashed back behind the diaper racks. We lined up in pairs – one near the warehouse shelves to hand off to their partner for reload. And we reloaded. And reloaded. And reloaded. For just over an hour, we stood back there, pulling diaper boxes off one shelf and shooting them down the other. No sooner would a box hit the front, it would be snagged by a customer.

The only reason we stopped was because we were out of ammo. Completely cleaned out of store brand diapers.

It’s funny to me, that after so many years of Black Friday shopping, the most memorable was this one, where I was called to the line of duty for an unplanned sale.

And it was just as fun, if not more so, than some of my best shopping days.

Not all retail employees are so lucky. Customers aren’t always so patient. But this is just another example of why Black Friday isn’t necessarily the demon holiday some make it out to be.

Everyone always harps on the negative. That people cut short a family-centric holiday to run out and buy cheap TVs and bath towels. And, on its surface, it does seem silly. But if you look past the blatant consumerism, you see people taking advantage of prices they may not see the rest of the year. Trying to make their money go a little further for Christmas gifts, or yes, maybe even for themselves. But in all my years shopping, it was just the crazies. It was teenagers, out with friends. It was women enjoying a girls night/day. Moms and daughters bonding over those $2 towels.

While I’m unfortunately sitting out for the time being, someday, I may come out of retirement and find my place amidst the chaos. I miss it.

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Black Friday Can Be a Blast and Here’s How…

Don’t go! Ha. Ha. Ha….

I hate that. I hate when people hate on Black Friday. It’s changed over the years, as have my own feelings. But I still fight for it.

It was my favorite holiday. Whenever I say that, I get these judgmental looks. And as queen of  judgmental facial expressions, I would know. It’s true, though. Black Friday was just as important to me as Thanksgiving, probably because it was the first holiday I had control of. It was mine, and I could spend it as I chose. I practiced the holiday for a dozen years straight, with friends, with Cory, sometimes alone; staying close to home or going as far as Manhattan and Philly. I shopped when I had to work the same day in retail or at a restaurant. And each and every year, I had a blast. Here are just a few highlights:

Kitchen Gadgets Galore:

A joint shopping trip, Cory and I bought essentially every $8 kitchen appliance JC Penney had to offer — even though neither of us had a house at the time. But we had a griddle, that sat in the back of Cory’s car for years, and a sandwich press that was used once. The coffee maker, still in the box, served as a laptop stand for at least 3 years before being used as it was intended. But the deals!

Manhattan Black Friday or… Friday:

This was with my best friend Karen and her mom and older sister, Lisa. We took a bus into the city, and shopped huge stores like H&M and various shoe stores before the Black Friday sales ended at noon. It was wild, but as soon as noon struck, it was just like a regular day in the city. Best of both worlds.

Shop (Then Work) Til You Drop:

One year I shopped for a few hours in the morning before heading into a 10 hour shift at JC Penney. It wasn’t too bad until the last hour or so. I was pretty much sprawled on the jewelry display case, just to take the weight off my feet.


 

I’ve been up at all times, started the adventure at Kohl’s, Target, and the mall. What I bought depended on the year — sometimes for others, sometimes for me. But despite the idea of the day, for me, it wasn’t about the stuff. Okay, it was a little about the stuff. But mostly, it was about the spirit, the culture, the sheer absurdity of it all.

Even though I’m an introvert, you might call me a crowd-junkie. I get such a rush from being in a big crowd, all feeling the same thing, whatever it is. I’m exhausted afterward, but it’s so worth it. On Black Friday, I love standing in line, listening to what other shoppers are planning. I love bursting into the store, watching others run toward their desired sales. I love the 4 am traffic, and how by 6 am, the mall looks like a busy Saturday afternoon. It’s crazy and strange and amazing to watch.

Black Friday gets a bad rap, mostly due to the unfortunate violence that occurs over these sales, or the injuries from trampling and crowding. The closest I ever came to danger was waiting for the mall to open near the gate in a Sears. A few minutes before opening, the crowd pushed toward the gate, and I found myself caught in it, moving forward from the force of the crowd. It didn’t last long, but it was clear how quickly that situation could have escalated.

Despite it all, I’ve never considered Black Friday stressful or dangerous, simply by by following a few basic rules. I believe if everyone just altered their mindset a little, Black Friday could be a memorable AND productive day. So here we go.

Sarah’s Rules for a Happy Black Friday:

  1. Prepare. Read your flyers. Check for promo emails. Keep an eye on websites. See what catches your eye and if you can plan around your main objections.
  2. Have a shopping buddy. Not exactly necessary. I did Black Friday by myself a few times. But it wasn’t nearly as much fun as when I had someone with me. Whether it’s to help you cover more ground or just for some memories, it’s worth having someone by your side.
  3. Prioritize. Remember that big ticket items are usually very limited, while littler things, like DVD players and clothing, will probably last a few hours. Pick one or two really good deals, and aim for those. Everything else will probably still be there later.
  4. Keep your cool. Just how badly do you need to get that luggage set? Or that TV? While the initial rush can be exciting and the prices alluring, remember that there are a million factors standing between you and that bargain. Waking up on time. Traffic. Place in line. Crowds. Stock. There’s no point in pushing, shoving, or name-calling fellow shoppers or store employees. Which leads me to…
  5. Respect. It’s so easy and costs you nothing! This is key to actually enjoying your shopping adventure. There’s absolutely no need to physically or verbally abuse shoppers or retail employees. Why get angry? You know going in there will be crowds. There will be lines. Products may run out. There may be stipulations to some of these sales. Retail employees can only do so much. If you go in with the mindset that today is not a big deal in the grand scheme, you’ll have a much better time, and by showing basic respect, you’ll make others’ day that much easier, too.

See? Super easy.

If you’re curious about my own experiences, check back tomorrow for my most memorable Black Friday experience.

Do you have any other suggestions for making the day a great one? Share in the comments!