Black Friday Sale sign by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
In what now feels like a long time ago, I was working in a big-chain bookstore. I worked the early morning shift, and typically ended my day in the afternoon. The place was super quiet as the early-morning workers arrived, and we actually had time to put books on the shelves and dust things before the store opened.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Black Friday sales started on Thanksgiving day. People had to make choices. Should they skip Thanksgiving dinner in favor of shopping for things they could gift to friends and loved ones? Or attend Thanksgiving dinner with family, whom they may or may not get along with?
Since then, Black Friday Sales started happening earlier and earlier in November. People crowded into the bookstore as soon as the doors opened, and didn’t stop until we literally had to usher people out so we could close the doors and start cleaning the store.
The results of those changes caused a lot of stress for workers. Instead of one day of chaos, Black Friday Sales started earlier and earlier, spreading across Thanksgiving day and through the weekend.
Here’s what big-chain bookstore workers go through during Black Friday:
Way more shoppers than typical: During a Black Friday Sales weekend, we saw huge amounts of people cramming themselves into the store at all hours of the day. I cannot adequately describe how loud the volume of voices was. From memory, we didn’t have anywhere near enough workers to help people find the books they wanted to buy.
Christmas wrapping: The store I worked in offered free wrapping on large calendars and smaller one-a-day page calendars (the ones that are chunky blocks with various themes or photos). My store was in California, and we allowed various groups to sit outside at a table, happily wrapping calendars and hoping for tips for their organization.
I had to learn very quickly how to wrap the large wall calendars with festive wrapping paper. There’s a trick to it: fold the wrapping paper over the calendar in a triangular fashion, and then stick a bunch of tape on it.
Children’s Section chaos: Our store, like most big-chain bookstores, had a children’s section. It was conveniently located near the bathrooms on the second floor. The children’s section was meant to be a quiet place where young readers could find some books that sparked their interest.
During the Black Friday Sales, many parents dropped their kids off there, and then went around the store without them. Obviously, this caused chaos and stress to the one worker assigned to the children’s area.
Checking bathrooms and replenishing toilet paper: As the day went on, someone would have to go to a supply closet and bring more toilet paper to resupply the stalls. Moms would bring their children into the women’s bathroom (regardless of the gender of their kids). There was a changing area for moms with babies.
I’ve no idea what happened in the men’s room — and didn’t want to go in there at all. There was an ongoing problem where young people thought it was cool to break the sinks off the wall and cause other property damage.
Getting yelled at by shoppers: In addition to the bookstore being super noisy, it was common for shoppers to walk up and start yelling at whatever random worker was nearby. Some of this was from people who were desperately trying to be heard and honestly just wanted some help finding a particular book.
Other shoppers would start off irate, and blame an unfortunate worker because the calendar/book/journal they wanted was out of stock. This puts the worker in an awkward position, as they cannot magically generate the product out of thin air.
Trash everywhere: As Black Friday Sales went on, some workers would be deployed to hunt for trash that customers left in the store. There are plenty of trash cans by the cafe, but for some reason, shoppers decided it was easier to just leave their paper coffee cups on a random shelf.
The bookstore was in a downtown area where there were plenty of other shops. Workers on a trash hunt would find not only cups of coffee from our cafe, but also cups of coffee from other nearby stores. Those who bought pastries from our store — or another store — left the wrapping on the floor.
Problem for a year from now: The store managers that I worked with were, by default, super chill. They would acknowledge the work done by all of us exhausted workers, just trying to get through the Black Friday Sales.
Every day, before we opened the doors, there would always be a meeting in the cafe. The manager of the day would go through some papers that told him or her how much money we made last year on the same date as today.
I found this annoying, because it didn’t make sense to me to compare the dollar amount our store made a year ago. For example, the coffee shop across from our bookstore the year before did a complete remodeling.
The next year, a manager tried to convince us that we needed to do much better today than we did on the same day last year. I guess corporate higher-ups don’t understand causal factors?
In short: Please be nice to the workers, who probably aren’t getting paid enough to deal with days (or weeks) of Black Friday Sales chaos.