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5 Black Friday Tips From a Stressed-Out Retail Employee

When the family is done eating the turkey and the pie, there’s only one thing on many people’s minds: Black Friday – the official start to the holiday shopping season. As a retail employee, I consider this day to be a fate worse than hell.

I worked my first Black Friday three years ago. It was a night shift, I had gotten plenty of rest, and the stuffing had been digested by the time I walked into work around 3 p.m. I didn’t have to deal with a lot of customers – only a messy store.

Last year, I wasn’t so lucky. I didn’t open my store, but I started at 2 a.m. – right in the middle of the morning rush. And that morning taught me a lot and helped me realize how we all should be nicer to those working retail, especially on Black Friday. To help aid your shopping escapades, here are a few tips if you plan on braving the midnight hours for a new TV.

(dmdonahoo, Flickr)

1. Read the coupon fine print before you leave the house. I hate coupons. The only thing I hate more than coupons is when someone yells at me about coupons. My advice? Read them before you go out. More often than not, you can only use each coupon once, and it probably excludes the one thing you want to buy. Instead of fighting with me and holding up the line, just know what you can and cannot get to keep the holiday cheer in the air. (And here’s a tip: Louder talking isn’t going to make anyone give you a deal.)

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

2. Don’t cut the line. If you cut the line, you will be “that guy.” And no one likes “that guy.” Just don’t cut in line. Ever.

(Mark Renders/Getty Images)

3. Leave your kids at home. I’ve worked in kids’ retail, and let me tell you, kids + shopping mall/any kind of store = a really bad idea. They scream, they cry, and they generally make a mess out of everything in sight. Strollers take up too much space, and your kids are going to jump on the beds and possibly fall off, and that’s not a good time for anyone involved. Get in, get out, and don’t get dragged down by little rugrats.

(jakuza, Flickr)

4. Have a plan. Plan out what you’re buying and at what store before you get to the mall. If you have a game plan, you’ll be in and out much faster, and you’ll be able to get every gift on your list. And the faster you leave, the easier retail employees’ days are.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

5. Be nice to cashiers. Cashiers are human, too. They aren’t robots put behind a register with the sole purpose of serving you. They probably woke up earlier than you, or maybe they had their Thanksgiving festivities cut short to be at Target at 9 p.m. As said in tip no. 1, yelling will get you nowhere. Retail employees usually have no control over the price of an item, if you can use a coupon or how fast stock of an item sells. Just remember that person has feelings and isn’t allowed to scream back without getting fired.
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In 2011, 226 million Americans purchased $52 billion worth of merchandise on that Thanksgiving weekend alone. About 135 million people shop on Black Friday every year

People are desperate for those deals. So desperate, that some are willing to camp out for nearly two weeks in order to assure they get their bargain. This happened in Florida where Christina Orta camped out for 12 days in order to snag a TV for cheap.

Black Friday does not have the best deals. The last few days of the holiday shopping season will usually have better deals than Black Friday. Some products may even sell for 10 percent to 15 percent less.

People generally enjoy shopping on Black Friday. According to a 2012 study of roughly 460 consumers for WWD by Marvin Traub Associates, it was found that 57% of Black Friday shoppers enjoyed the experience. However, 43% did not.

There are two popular theories as to the origins of Black Friday. According to a 2009 article published in TIME magazine, the phrase “Black Friday” was first used in the 1960′s by newspapers in Philadelphia to illustrate the resemblance of the great numbers of consumers and the madness seen after the stock market panic of September 24, 1864 (also known as Black Friday). The second theory, according to NRF comes from the retail accounting perspective; which refer to the stores’ profit margins in the days when the books were kept by hand. Red ink represented a loss in profit while black ink represented a profit. Signifying the day’s potential to bring profit to businesses.

Researchers have found that Black Friday is also about the sport of shopping, the thrill and satisfaction of “winning” that TV before your competition does.

According to, many products promoted at deep discounts on Black Friday are “derivative products”. In other words items that look like and are named the same as the standard models, but are actually made with cheaper components and may not have the same features. Consumer Reports found that big-name companies like Sony and Samsung have made derivative televisions in previous years.

Some stores tighten their return policies considerably during the holidays thus making it harder to return items. And even if you can return items some retailers will only give you store credit in spite of you having a receipt.

Gray Thursday is on the rise. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers have gone from opening in the early morning of Black Friday to opening on the evening of Thanksgiving itself. And 26% of people surveyed stated that they planned on shopping online on Thanksgiving Day.

Last year, shoppers at a California Walmart were exposed to pepper spray by a 33-year-old shopper named Elizabeth Macias. Nearly two dozen people, including children, suffered nose and throat irritation.

There is an alternative to the craze of consumerism. Try not buying anything. In fact, for the past 20 years or so there has been a growing movement protesting the hyper commercialism associated with Black Friday by refusing to buy anything on that day.

In 2008, Jdimytai Damour, a Long Island Walmart employee, was trampled to death when crazed shoppers pushed open the doors to get their hands on the Black Friday discounted items. The paramedics who came to the rescue were also trampled and seriously injured by shoppers. In total, five shoppers at the store required hospitalization. Sadly, this is but one of many of such cases.

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A Brief History of Black Friday


The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they’ll give you some good talking points next year as you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.


It’s hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail behemoth, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially started.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn’t start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.


You bet. They weren’t just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn’t begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.



Not so well. Roosevelt didn’t make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its “real” date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as “Franksgiving.” State governments didn’t know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.


If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they’ll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day’s huge receipts as their opportunity to “get in the black” and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term “Black Friday” are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name “Black Friday” dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that’s played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city’s streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as “Black Friday” to reflect how irritating it was.


Apparently storeowners didn’t love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.


Major retailers don’t; they’re generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn’t be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.


It’s certainly the day of the year in which you’re most likely to be punched while grabbing for the latest Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to, Black Friday is generally one of the top six or seven days of the year for stores, but it’s the days immediately before Christmas when procrastinators finally get shopping that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes’ data shows the ten-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year’s busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.


Sadly, yes. The most tragic Black Friday incident happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour died from asphyxiation after 2,000 shoppers knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010, nine people in a California shopping mall were injured, including an elderly woman who had to be taken to the hospital, after a rugby-style scrum erupted when gift certificates were dropped from the ceiling.

In Buffalo, New York, several more shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz, who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground, told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don’t want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fist fights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores. Down in Boynton Beach, Florida, a man in a crowd of eager shoppers waiting for a Wal-Mart to open was found carrying a handgun, two knives and a pepper spray grenade.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1,000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

That same year, inside a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, California, two women erupted into a dispute and began punching each other in the face until their friends—unluckily, both men with handguns—entered the fray.

The men chased each other through the toy store, careened around Christmas decorations and half-price electronics, and eventually shot each other to death by the cash register.

(Toys R Us later released a statement saying that although the shoppers’ deaths arose as a result of a dispute, which broke out in an aisle of Toys R Us on Black Friday, it would be “inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday.”)

Two years after that incident, a 21-year-old woman who’d been waiting outside another Toys R Us store in Madison, Wisconsin, freaked out, cut in line, and pulled a gun on her fellow shoppers.


In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, when the charging shoppers come a’runnin’, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

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