How To Survive Working In Retail On Black Friday

Earlier this week, I wrote a guide for anyone who dares to venture out shopping over the next 24 hours. And truly, good luck to them. Good luck to their bank accounts and to their ability to navigate parking lots and good luck to those of us who have to hear about all the great deals they got.

But now they’re gone, and it’s just you and me. Odds are, if you’re working Black Friday (in retail) (or in general, but especially in retail), you are prepared to pass away. You know what the next 24 hours will hold, and you know that by the time the mall closes on Friday night you will no longer be the person you once were. You will have been changed forever. You will have differed greatly. You will have evolved.

So here’s my guide to if-you’re-working-retail sanity. I have done it, I have survived it, and so will you.

Take as many breaks as possible
And I don’t mean your standard 15. I don’t mean that at all. I mean, in the immortal words of Jack Dawson, make your own luck. Does somebody need a size? You volunteer, head into the back, eat some snacks, chat with whoever’s doing stock, and sit for a solid five minutes on a few cardboard boxes. Sometimes, I would use my “just checking a size” minutes to look at my phone, to think about what I was going to do later, and bask in the glow of not being on the sales floor. Which was especially important if I knew going in that there were no sizes in the back, and that I was giving myself a much-needed reprieve. Then, I would walk back out, tilt my head in pity, and say “Sorry, there weren’t any sizes” while planning my next move.

Hide near a table and fold stuff for hours
And I mean hours. One year, a friend and I were so tired of talking to customers that we took off our headsets and decided to intricately fold and refold tables full of shirts. And because it looked like that was our only job, nobody talked to us. So it was heaven: we didn’t have to interact with the public, our manager assumed we were being very productive, and only when the store was overrun with customers did we have to answer for doing the most pointless job in the world. And do you know what? It was so worth it.

Hold any inanimate object
Admittedly, this sounds stupid, but hear me out: if you want to walk around your place of work unbothered for a precious ten seconds, walk around holding any inanimate object with purpose. Hold a pen. Hold a clipboard. Hold two sweaters and look around as though you’re very specifically seeking out a person. Hold anything and look almost angry in your determination, and the only person who will speak with you is Don Corleone himself, asking if you would like to replace him.

Run any errand
Any. Errand. Does your manager need paperclips? Receipt tape? A coffee? I don’t care. It is up to you to find it. Yes, you will have to venture out into traffic and/or the mall, but then you can have as long as you want to get back. Is this technically time theft? I don’t care. It’s Black Friday and all bets are off. At American Eagle, I spent at least 50% of my shifts doing coffee runs, and while I spilled so much coffee on myself in the process, I regret none of it because it meant I didn’t have to speak to the general public who kept asking me how much things cost that were clearly marked with a price tag.

Remember: this isn’t your problem
Does this sound heartless? Yes. Am I personally very heartless? Sometimes. But also: when you want to scream into the night and can’t believe the state of the world and would rather eat poison than be asked again if you’re sure the thing you know is full price is actually on sale, you tell yourself the four most important words in retail: I just work here. You do not own this massive chain store, you do not have stakes in Best Buy. You just have to roll in, show up, and then leave. You did not invent shopping, it is not your problem if a customer is very angry that the store has run out of socks. All you have to do is not steal or be cruel to other humans in your general vicinity. And then, when your shift ends, you leave it behind. And you are free.

I’ll see you tomorrow. Specifically when I ask if you can check for a size in the back.


Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Black Friday, black friday shopping

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