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Posted on Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Retailer Anonymous: What Black Friday looks like from the other side

By Ben Freed


Nathan Bomey |

We all know those people.

The ones who wake up super early (or never go to sleep) so they can literally bust down doors to get the best deal on that new television.

But what about the people who unlock those doors at 6 a.m. on Black Friday (or this year at 9 p.m. on Thursday)? Do we ever take a second to think about the people who have to deal with the shopper who just missed the door buster deal, or can’t find that pair of jeans in just the right size?

With hours creeping up to Thursday and people lining up for hours (and even days) outside of stores for the “biggest and best” deals, Black Friday shoppers can wreak havoc on the psyche of retail employees. spoke to an anonymous former manager at multiple retail stores for the inside scoop on what it’s like to work on Black Friday.


Our anonymous retailer has worked for major Midwestern and national chain stores. Did you always work on Black Friday?

Manager: I was always a manager, so I never had a choice. If you're in a management position you're expected to work on Black Friday.

Employees are expected to be available on Black Friday. It's mandatory that everyone's available. If you're not available you have to ask for it off but often times the management team will get frustrated with you. Was that a point of contention between management and employees?

M: It went both ways, I was always able to manage because I always had enough employees that I was always able to get the coverage I needed. Other managers would be very upset with the number of staff available.

Even if they were just going to schedule an employee for 2-3 hours, they would be upset if they tried to get the time off.

But you have to remember that there are always going to be exceptions.

One employee wanted to take her whole family and her grandmother who was 90 years old to Disney World over Thanksgiving weekend. She was one of my supervisors. I said, ‘You're fine, go. Please go spend time with your family.’

My other employees became irate and jealous because I let her have the time. My management team was frustrated with me because they were questioning my decision-making. I said it's her family, it's her grandmother, I'm going to make her work 3 hours that day instead of going to this life-changing event? No. Do most employees work full days or shorter shifts?

M: Retail is a little different because retailers don't like to schedule you more than five hours because then they have to give you a break. You were to schedule people 3 hours to work and then 2 hours on call if you're busy. That meant you were able to have a staff that increased your management workload but it meant you weren't paying anyone breaks.

On Black Friday, you layer in as many shifts as possible to what your projected peak times will be.

In the old days we would open at 7 a.m. with door busters, and those would get the customers in the store as early as possible. That worked for a long time.

Now with the changing face of the retail landscape you have your outlet mall opening thanksgiving night, door busters are so big at best buy and target you have people waiting in line to get there to save money. Your schedule reflects these projected trends, and you want as many employees there and available, but you have to maintain payroll for the day.

If you are projecting $100,000, you look at your payroll and say, ‘I can spend this much.’ So you have to find a way to use those hours, but if you go over and schedule more than your payroll, you'll get reprimanded by your managers unless you make a contract beforehand. How does a store prepare for Black Friday?

M: People loose their minds on Black Friday. We gear up the staff on the floor to be this really energetic vibrant place. The decorations are important the merchandizing is important, we spend a lot of time on Wednesday night making sure everything's perfect. Everything's folding, everything's hanging, every manikin has the right scarf on, everything's done.

You walk in Friday morning and say our mall opened at 6 a.m. so we get there at 5:30 a.m.. We have our sales rally, talk about the day, make the master schedule into a huge poster on the back of the office door because I don't have time to talk to my employees. Do you have any particular Black Friday memories that stand out?

M: A few years ago we had a sweater promo, buy one get one half off. So I had three tables full of sweaters. I then have two baker's racks full of sweaters in the stock room. So many sweaters. Well, the customers headed right for the promo and were just ripping through the piles, what had been an organized, beautiful table. After that 15 minutes that table looks like ambrosia salad. So I get on the walkie talkie and say the table needs to be organized and re-stocked.

So then my people come out and do that, and then 20 minutes later it repeats itself. It was like that for the first 4 hours of the day.

… Then someone calls me on the walkie and says they have a customer at the adult cash register and need my assistance.

This woman is there with her two daughters and they have six sweaters. And she walks up and she looks at me and she says, ‘I will get what I want.’

I said, ‘well I hope so, we're here to sell to you and make you happy.’

‘I don't like the way you're talking to me,’ she said.

She told me she had the 6 sweaters and she also had this coupon, and she wanted to apply that to the sweaters. I said I understood where the confusion came from, but we can't process that through our register because that promotion doesn't relate to that and our system was set up for the Black Friday deals.

She said ‘I don't care about your little details, I want my deal. I don't have to shop here, I can shop anywhere.’

I said to her, ‘I want to make sure I understand what you're telling me. You want these 6 sweaters, 3 at the 50% off promotion, then you want me to apply the 25% coupon to everything?’

Keep in mind, these are 100 dollar sweaters. She said that was exactly what she wanted.

When I told her coupon is good for one item, and the promo couldn’t be combined, she slammed her fist down on the granite counter (which I'm sure hurt her), she raised her voice and told me to ‘do my f---ing job.’

At this point I gave up and told her that I would make this happen for her because I want her to be happy and I don't want my staff frustrated by her behavior.

I said have a wonderful holiday and thanks for remembering how important the holidays are for everybody. You have to remember that these people are so revved up to save money, and the economy is so touch and go, that they just want to get the best deals they can.

Another time, we had this striped sweater we couldn't keep in stock. We got them in again and this woman had left one (with her purse) in the fitting room and another customer stole it right out of the fitting room. She came back and said she wanted that sweater and the other woman said, ‘too late I have it now.’ Crazy. Any advice for Black Friday shoppers?

M: You have to remember you’re dealing with people at these stores.

When I'm dating someone, I always watch how they treat the wait-staff or store employees. If they don’t respect retail workers, they’re probably not going to respect you.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Wow. I can't imagine why an employee would be upset about not being able to travel or vacation because they need to come into work for 3 hours in the middle of a holiday weekend. Glad I've never worked retail. Employees deserve to be treated like real people who aren't automatons and deserve a living wage and fair shift schedules. Maybe there wouldn't be as many "jealous" and "irate" employees when the slightest bit of humanity is shown, like paying for a lunch break after 5 hard hours of work during the busiest shopping day of the year. And sorry, but you played your hand wrong with the problematic customer. There is such a thing as a bad customer, and your employees would have been so much happier and loyal if you'd simply shown her the door instead of giving in to her demands. Your other customers would have been happier too, knowing that they aren't subsidizing the purchases of people who just scream until they get what they want.


Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

this lady w/the two daughters is a "class act(NOT"). way to instill values, mom(stinging sarcasm)!!!


Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 5:05 a.m.

On this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful I don't work in retail anymore. People are insane.

Fat Bill

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

I don't miss retail at all. I worked in a Radio Shack twenty years ago on an hourly plus commission basis. The tightwads from Fort Worth cut commission 30% from November 15th to January 3rd, despite a heavier workload and longer hours. The night before thanksgiving as well as Christmas Eve were always spent putting up sale signs and loss leaders...frequently we stayed until 1 in the morning.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 3:50 p.m.

I hope this manager and retailer is paying the team members for staying at home 'on call'.


Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

"on call", nuthin'....when I'm off the clock, I'm OFF THE CLOCK.


Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

Contrary to the other reply, I agree with you Goob. The retailers have to stop financially abusing the workers.

Basic Bob

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

Be realistic.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

Wow! Good managers always find the time to talk to and work with their fellow team members, especially during stressful periods of time. This person must be new to the ranks of management. Unless they change, they should not last long in management. You just don't treat team members this way. Go figure!


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

This was eye-opening. Employees are scheduled for only 3 hours with a potential 2 more hours of work? That's crazy. I suppose it's better than an 8 hour shift if you want to spend time with your family but management isn't thinking about that, they're thinking about the payroll. I suppose it's a way to offset the discounted prices.

Basic Bob

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Can you imagine on the busiest day of the year what happens when an employee announces that he must have a break NOW? If there is a soul in the break room for more than 60 seconds, something is wrong.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

They cannot risk giving lunch breaks, paying overtime or providing full-time benefits. They are also looking out for their employees, making sure they don't lose Food Stamp eligibility.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 1:52 p.m.

I feel for the retail staff. It's a rough time of year. If you go out, treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve. By the way, is it official that the word mannequin is now being spelled manikin? Are the extra letters too much trouble? Once againg, I think of the movie Idiocracy. I feel as though we are moving more and more in that direction

a2 Brute?

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Check it out. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the earliest usage "manikynnis" is in 1535 by H.M. Paton. In English literature, "manikin" was used in 1851 by Herman Melville when writing Moby Dick. Years later, in 1893, "mannequin" first appeared in America (Daily Review, Decatur IL). Visually, the version with the French etymology makes it seem like the author knows more about dummies.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Check this out too: Some MBA probably figured out that reducing the number of letters would allow the Chinese supplier to hire several fewer workers, saving the MBA's company at least 50 cents a week.

a2 Brute?

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

Check it out: Now, about that "againg"...

Robert Granville

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Sounds like JC Penney.... I will never understand people who leave home on Black Friday. If you've got a computer w/ internet access and a debit or credit card, it's all pointless.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

Couldn't agree more. It is not worth it anymore, you can get most of the same deals online.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

An interesting article, but come ON,, don't you ever proofread your articles? Do people *really* "loose their minds" at these stores? I suppose it's possible...


Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

You must be new here.


Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

Oh, pick pick pick.

Buck Wild

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

Also, it's "mannequin," not "manikin."'s copyediting (or lack thereof) is an embarrassment.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

It's only a typo, don't loose your mind.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Do people *really* "lose their minds" at these stores? I suppose that's the reason for Lost & Found.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

It's just a typo. Take a deep breath and relax.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

'At this point I gave up and told her that I would make this happen for her because I want her to be happy and I don't want my staff frustrated by her behavior.' This is a real problem for me. Management gives in to the customers, who are not always right. In fact, they are usually wrong. Rude behavior is rewarded, making the world a more insufferable place for the rest of the sane people who don't act like 5 year olds and always insist on getting their way. This woman should have been told to walk out the door and don't come back, not been catered to. Perhaps more security should be scheduled to deal with these rude and aggressive people, not more retail workers and management.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

I agree with L B, I would actually respect the business more for taking the stance its not fair to other customers that they make an exception just because someone is acting obnoxious. Also, one thing about the "unhappy customer etc.." adage-- when I hear stories from people I know complaining about a business, I often look at who's telling the story. If its someone I know to be rude/obnoxious/always looking for ways to scam, etc..I don't take much stock in their complaint. Definitely agree its always the squeaky wheel...

music to my ear

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

MY guess is true .the squeaky wheel always gets the grease .


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

Years ago I learned that "Customers are not always right, but customers are always customers". That is important to remember when dealing with inappropriate behavior. A satisfied customer will share his/her experience with their 3 best friends but an unhappy customer will tell their 3,000 best friends. I'm a business owner and have done the same thing. It hurts because I hate to reward bad behavior. Fortunately those situations are rare and a majority of customers are a pleasure to work with.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I agree with you, LB, but honestly I think I might have handled this the way the manager did. This woman was preventing the manager from being able to help other customers and she was going to tell all her friends how unfairly she was treated, which might cost the store more customers. Also, she was prepared to make a big scene right there in the store, which could have driven some customers away. The manager's job was to do what was best for the business. The manager is not hired to teach behavior lessons to obnoxious customers. The manager made a business decision, and it probably was the right decision at that time for that business. However, it's a very sad thing that people like this woman end up getting what they want by acting this way.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

LOL, (s)he uses the word frustrated to minimize the angry and threatening atmosphere managemnt creates when a retail employee shows more loyalty to their family then the company's sales and profit ! (S)he forgot to mention the sizeable bonus (s)he will get after the number crunching that goes on in retail management during the last quarter of the fisical year. I do agree with the dating part. How someone treats servive workers is a very good cue as to how you will be treated after the knot is tied. No store needs to be open on Thanksgiving night. Whatever "trends" retailers claim they are seeing is nonsense. If the store opened at 9 am Friday morning, there would be more then enough sales. Unhappy and disrespected employees who are told to work or else, are proven to be less productive, are a turn off to the customers, wind up with an "I don't care" attitude, and create very high turnover rates.


Thu, Nov 22, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

This is the reason that I avoid shopping at all around the holidays.