How to Survive Black Friday if You Work in Retail

I'll admit that Black Friday didn't become a bona fide Canadian thing until after I'd put my two weeks in at American Eagle and I'd finally ended my nine-year reign as retail queen. Or, if it did, I wasn't a part of it. (See: I booked a lot of time off.) But! We did have Boxing Day. And if there's one thing I've learned from working seven-ish consecutive Boxing Days on top of watching Black Friday hell descend upon the U.S. of A., it's that they look very similar for anybody else forced to price check, size-get, and ring through until you're allowed to go home. Read: it is the worst.

So that, my friends, is why I'm here today: to help anyone about to walk through the same metaphorical trenches as I did want to smother yourself in a sea of polyblend a little less. Together, we can make a difference.

1. Hide
Look. I understand that as a person in retail you're hired to do a job, but nowhere in that job description is what happens on Black Friday included. THINGS HAPPEN. Dark, horrifying, unforgettable things. Tables are flipped (kind of). Customers puke (in our store entry on Boxing Day 2008 — if you're reading this, person responsible, I hate you still). Cashiers eat food they are allergic to the night before and spend most of the shift chugging Pepto Bismol in the back room until they have — have — to go back to work (me, also Boxing Day 2008 — it was a bad year). So what I'm saying to you is do one of two things:
a) Walk out and accept that you will be unemployed after you do this.
b) Hide.

And I mean HIDE. You go into that backroom and you make up ANY JOB YOU CAN. "I am organizing the hangers!" you say accusingly, like whoever asked what you're doing will be fired for not doing the same thing. "Um, I'm sorting the security tags," you yell-speak at the new assistant manager who doesn't know that this job is the least important of all jobs, and it's only to be done on like, a Sunday in January when not even the mall employees are bothering to show up. And when the moment comes and you're called out anyway? You find a corner, and you FOLD. Fold so much that you've folded yourself into a little fort and you never have to do a price check again.

2. Work on cash
I say this because you don't even have to be NICE as long as you're fast. Do you know how exhausting being NICE is? (Honestly, I'm sorry if this piece is offending you, but if it is, you've never worked retail so you don't understand.) Telling the same customer 14 times that everything is marked down and that prices are listed without screaming "IT SAYS ON THE TAG GODDAMN IT" is the most selfless and kind act you can do in the world, and if you think it is NOT then please stop reading right now this isn't for you. Cash means never having to say "Sorry, we don't have that size." It's "hi, how are you?" and by the time they answer, you have taken their money and bagged their shit, and they are GONE. (And they love you for it. This isn't Dr. Phil. There isn't any chit chat in THIS house.)

3. Don't wear a name tag
Blend in. For as long as you can, blend in amongst them and fold discreetly. They'll never ask you a question, and you'll never have to do anything you don't want. You're welcome.

4. Embrace ignorance
And I mean EMBRACE IT. Listen. I understand that being a good employee is important, but I can't tell you how little that importance matters on Black Friday (and/or Boxing Day) when the only goal is survival. (Honestly: if you have the time to complain about an associate's attitude on the busiest shopping day of the year, YOU are being judged. YOU. Get out of here — these people are exhausted, LET THEM FEEL JOY FOR A FLEETING MINUTE.) So in moments of waiting for that elusive 15-minute break amidst nine hours of labour (and I say this as someone who was once given two 15-minute breaks in the span of an 8-5 shift), just say you don't know and/or you lie. Allow me:

"Do you have this in a medium?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, we don't."
"Can you check?"
"I'm sorry…"

True, they'll be freakishly confused as to why you're not sure about whether or not you can check and why you're slowly backing away, but if you calmly continue moving like maybe they made an error in even asking, you've done your job. Exhibit B:

"Do you know if this stretches?"
"I'm not sure."
"Can you ask someone?"
"Oh, it does…"

See? When cornered, err on the side of not lying to the DIRECTLY, but lying about the SITUATION. It's like when you go to the back room to check for a size and decide instead to eat cookies and sit for two precious minutes because you deserve it. Bringing me to my last point:

5. Sit in the back and eat cookies
Or, as I used to call it before my manager suggest I just stick to cash, "size checking."

And THAT, my friends is how you get fired on Black Friday I MEAN survive Black Friday.

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Black Friday, Holiday, retail, shopping, Tips

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