9 Unbelievable Stories About Working On Black Friday

Black Friday: For some, it’s an excuse to bundle up indoors and recover from a Tryptophan-induced hangover. For others, it’s a crack-of-dawn call to arms in the name of big savings. The day after Thanksgiving has historically been one of the busiest shopping days of the year; last year, stores raked in around $50.9 billion (!) over the holiday weekend. With stores opening earlier and earlier each year, and people literally dying for sales, there's no sign of a spending slowdown.

Naturally, catering to the savings-hungry masses can be stressful for those who work in retail — behind the scenes, it's not so merry. We asked nine retail workers to share their most memorable tales from working Black Friday. And with appearances by everyone from hangry mall shoppers to a super-sweet David Beckham, these stories don’t disappoint.

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
"While I was working at Club Monaco in Los Angeles, I had to awkwardly ask a couple to please stop having sex in the fitting room, since the rest of the store could hear their screams and moans. They left, but not before complaining to the manager about our 'unwelcoming environment.' That same day, a well-known politician’s daughter came in the store to 'browse' and walked out wearing an entire pantsuit under her clothes. According to store policies, we weren’t allowed to chase her or call her out on her blatant crime (for legal reasons), and we let her go. She walked in later that day WEARING the pantsuit, and quite literally lifted her leg on the counter so we could remove the censor. We were so dumbfounded that the only reaction any of us had was to say yes and let her go yet again.

"At another fashion retailer where I worked, they would make employees clock in at ridiculous hours and work more than a 12-hour shift. They would get away with it by having their employees clock out every couple of hours and requiring them to take a 'break.' It was worse for the people who worked overnight (myself included); they would have us come in right after Thanksgiving dinner and work through the night and well into the next morning. They would also ask that we clock out after a certain number of hours, claiming it was a computer glitch — but we all knew it was a sleazy way to avoid paying overtime... They also fired a girl during Black Friday for having a seizure on the floor during business hours. Their excuse was that she was unable to complete her shift.

"One year, I worked at a high-end children’s clothing store, and a client threatened to sue me because the dress she bought on clearance during Black Friday had stitching that was a bit crooked — and it showed on her daughter’s school picture. The kid had obviously worn the dress and got gunk on it, and the mother wanted to return it weeks later. Once she realized it was impossible, she began to scream and throw a tantrum, which was followed by a formal letter from a lawyer, stating that the child’s dress was defective and a health hazard."

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
"I worked at the Disney Store in our local mall for three years. Every year, I had to work on Black Friday, and each year I would have to be there earlier and earlier. I would have to forfeit my family's annual Thanksgiving movie marathon so that I could get plenty of sleep before the crazy day.

"I remember driving to the mall so early on Friday; it was still pitch-black outside. By the time I got there, before the store even opened, there was always an insane line to get in. As soon as we opened the gate, people would pour in, grabbing anything they could. I spent my shift running back and forth from the back room, to make sure the floor was always stocked. But we inevitably would run out of things, and people would get angry.

"I can remember one time I was helping bag the items at the register. In the early hours, the line was constantly wrapped around the store, with everyone trying to get out of there so they could get to the next sale. There was a lot of pressure to do everything very quickly. It was proper procedure for us to wrap the fragile items, like mugs and snow globes, in tissue paper. But one woman decided that she wanted each one of her things wrapped. After I bagged the items and handed them to her, she refused to take the bag and began yelling at me. According to her, I should have known to wrap the pajamas and T-shirts she purchased in tissue paper (these are $5 items that I quickly folded and placed in the bag). This was not something that we usually did, but it wouldn't have been a problem if she had asked me.

"I stood there, shocked, as this lady continued to criticize me, and I tried to package her items in a way that she approved of... I didn't want to let her know how upset she was making me. The rest of the people in line just waited while this woman had her tantrum. At the end of the interaction, she asked me my name, so that she could call my manager and complain about my service. That was the first time anything like that had happened to me.

"Even though that was probably seven years ago, I remember that moment pretty vividly because it made me feel so horrible. But encounters like that weren't unusual on Black Friday."

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
"I used to work at the American Girl store in Manhattan, on 47th Street and Fifth Avenue. It’s a huge store: two stories of dolls and all of their accessories. And it gets pretty packed during the holidays. On Black Friday, I worked a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. I was a sales associate who assisted customers, so I rang up sales, staying mostly behind the counter. On the morning of Black Friday, the lines were around the entire store, with parents and little girls waiting anxiously to get in. It was a madhouse once they did. But there weren’t any special sales, so I was surprised at the fact that there was such a large crowd. The dolls were regular-priced: no discounts or specials to be had. I remember seeing doll boxes all over the floor and just feeling totally filled with anxiety and completely overwhelmed... I’ve worked in other retail stores since then, but nothing’s compared to the chaos that was American Girl. I still work in retail and prefer to avoid Black Friday when I can."

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
"I was working in Los Angeles as one of the sales 'agents' for the premiere lingerie boutique Agent Provocateur (always wearing full makeup, decked out in my sexy, five-inch stilettos and signature little, prim, pink smock). Two back-to-back incidents on Black Friday will stay imprinted in my mind forever.

"The first encounter was with a customer who wanted to find the perfect little lacy bra and 'knickers' (we were taught to always say 'knickers,' never 'panties'). She wanted to be dressed to kill (even underneath) at all the lavish parties she was attending over the holiday season. We were slammed that day, but this gal could care less. She wanted all of my attention, and I fitted her with at least 20-plus luxurious options.

"When we finally settled on her ultimate choice, my arches had fallen and all I could envision was a hot bubble bath and glass of Pinot. In one shocking moment, I felt a stinging pain on my face. I stopped for a split second to realize what had just happened. This customer had literally stretched the bra and aimed it, at incredibly close range, like a slingshot, to my face! Even though she had tested my patience for over an hour, nothing could prepare me for this response of hers upon learning the price. The set was over $500, [but] no one shops at Agent P. without understanding how exclusive and expensive it is... This girl was incredibly clueless.

"My second incident was equally unpredictable, but far more gratifying, to say the least. We prepared for Black Friday by coming in on Sunday morning to do a quick inventory. Most of us were makeup-less and in our sweats and socks, still sleepy from our individual Saturday night escapades in downtown L.A. We were sipping our Starbucks and still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes when we heard a gentle knock at the back door. None of us paid much attention, as the store was closed, and we simply shrugged it off as someone dropping something off and leaving. Then, we heard the light knock again. I was the one to go into the back room to see what this was all about... There, behind the door with the barred window, was the most elegant man my twentysomething eyes had ever seen. He had a British accent, the most perfectly coiffed dark hair, twinkling eyes, and a James Bond build. I was swooning in my gray flannel sweatpants.

"I opened the door without one passing thought that this man could be a serial killer. He was just too damn good-looking to not let in. He said he was truly sorry to bother us, but he was wondering if he could buy something really beautiful and romantic for his lovely wife, and this was the only time he could do such a thing. I understood that there would be no paparazzi tracking his every move at this crazy hour. (We were very accustomed to the blinding cameras every time Kim or Beyoncé stopped by.)

"We shopgirls were so thrilled and giddy to have him at our morning soiree and to be able offer help to a loving husband — who was also the hottest man in the world. After wrapping up the gift and sending him merrily on his way...I stopped to think and collect myself. Was that really David Beckham, or am I still asleep and dreaming a beautiful dream?"
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
"Working at a restaurant in the mall, we’d get the dregs of Black Friday shoppers who don’t want to wait for three hours to get a table at the Cheesecake Factory. By the time they get to us, they’re pretty hungry and agitated.

"I once had a woman throw her pager at us after having to wait for her table for over 30 minutes. While we explained to her several times that no one had gotten up yet, so there were no free tables, she wasn’t having it. She chucked the pager at us and left in a huff, along with her husband and three kids.

"I also once had a guy come in on Black Friday, alone, with a ton of expensive shopping bags (Saks, David Yurman, the works), sit down, [and] order an appetizer, three beers, and a whole pizza. While I was inside getting his check, he took the liberty of walking out of the restaurant, leaving me to explain to my manager why he hadn’t paid his $50 bill. (I almost got fired, since this particular manager wasn’t so understanding.) Guess he spent his quota of money for the day and couldn’t afford much else.

"It’s not all bad, though. A customer once left one of our waitresses a little, blue box on top of her checkbook on Black Friday weekend, with a note that said 'You deserve this, Merry Christmas.' It was a super-expensive pair of earrings from Tiffany’s! She found out later they were worth around $1,000. [The customer] left before she could say thank you. That was a particularly stressful Black Friday for us, and I’m sure it made her day."


Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
"I worked at Aritzia, a hip, slightly upscale clothing retailer that my coworker referred to as a 'gold-plated hell-hole.' The week started with a 7 a.m. merch pull to ship out all of the things that weren’t on special, as our stock room was quite small. The day before Thanksgiving, 20 extra boxes appeared in our shipment because the warehouse had mistakenly sent all of those items back. Space was extremely limited, so all of the shopping bags and tissue were moved into the restroom, at which point a lackey from the corporate office chided, 'I’m glad the CEO isn’t here to see this.'

"Getting prepared for Black Friday the day before Thanksgiving was nearly as bad as Black Friday itself. There was a new window display to install, the store needed to be re-merchandised, clothing on the mannequins changed. Despite the 'corporate policy,' several employees (who coincidentally were friends with the managers) were excused from Black Friday duties for superficial reasons. They scurried out the door while the rest of us, slightly understaffed, set to work with a booklet of sale prices and started marking tags.

"About an hour and a half in, a message came in from corporate that the prices had been re-adjusted; therefore, at 10 p.m. on the evening before Thanksgiving, we were forced to start over. The new price difference was nickels and dimes. We finished preparations at around 2 a.m. As we wearily started to gather our things, a corporate lackey appeared and began nitpicking the merch manager's work (which, honestly, looked terrific). Luckily, we had a great merch manager who gave her the most truthful answer when asked to redo the mannequins at 2 a.m. 'If it's so important, do it your effing self. We’re all going home.'

"On Black Friday, a table was set up in the narrow hallway between the stockroom and bathroom, to process shipment. Sales associates were constantly bumping into me in this hallway, going back and forth between the sales floor and the stockroom. At one point, surprised by the constant stream of people into the stockroom, I peeked inside to discover sales associates not on a sanctioned break, taking some time to post to Snapchat and snap some selfies while hiding from the chaos in the store. This continued for the entire day. I wish I could’ve hidden under a pile of sweaters with my phone as well.

"Also... I managed to bump the light switch and turn out the lights in the entire store several times — and by several, I mean nine. The ninth time I bumped the lights, I did it on purpose, because it was funny watching all of the frenzied shoppers suddenly freeze.

"When I was hired, they sold me with big stories about what a down-to-earth company they were. 'No caste system in place here; the CEO would work at the stores on Black Friday — sweeping floors, assisting customers, swaddling purchases in tissue, and bagging them,' [people said]. Yet, when Black Friday rolled around, the CEO and his corporate office minions stood, arms crossed, chatting with managers and schmoozing employees for a couple of hours before making a hasty exit mid-chaos to grab a bite and head off to Costco in hopes of procuring a discount Vitamix (for real)... Not once did I witness anyone from corporate being useful.

"We were dealing with about 100 times the volume of customers we were used to, yet not getting paid more... Not to mention the state that I worked in had a law that allowed companies to skirt overtime pay if employees are listed as part-time. So they would schedule half of their workforce to be just under the minimum to qualify for full-time employment."


*Name has been changed
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
"I was working at Forever 21 during Black Friday, and a group of five came in — three girls, two guys. We kept an eye on them, because it was super busy, and it seemed like they thought we’d be distracted with all of the crowds. We caught one guy trying to steal a belt, and another trying to take shoes. But the three girls managed to sneak around, and I later found 15 to 20 sensors hiding in one of the piles of clothes. When we reported it to mall security, they said they had a complaint from another store about the group and were trying to keep an eye on them. The one kid I did catch just stared at me and mumbled something like, 'Whatever, fool,' and left the store. I wrote the incident down in the store log and kept track of how much value/product was stolen.

"Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to shoplift from Forever 21, because most of the employees do get distracted or don't really seem to care. I'd find a couple of tags and sensors every shift. Some were scattered through the store, others were hidden in the fitting room. Store policy was if you see theft happening, and they leave the store, you couldn’t really do much about it. You can try to do something while they’re in the store, but once they leave, you just have to forget about it."

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
"I was working in-house for a women's fashion boutique in its corporate office, in a full-time role on the digital marketing team. We got an email from management requesting we work retail shifts during the holidays, Black Friday included. I’ve never worked retail; I was pretty surprised. This policy was sprung on us without much warning. Everyone had to do a quick training and then sign up for three shifts on designated days when the holiday rush was in full swing. They were very inconvenient because the shifts seemed to be mostly on the weekend. I can't remember if we were paid overtime or not. One of my shifts was on the day I flew back to New York from Texas, and my flight was delayed, so I was really late... I felt really out of place during my shift, like someone who just came in off the street and decided to pretend to work in the store. I would ask customers if they needed help, and when they did, I had no idea how to help them! I just referred everyone to another member of the staff. I definitely felt like more of an inconvenience to them than anything else. When I showed up for my next scheduled shift, the manager said I could go home because it wasn't busy. I was so grateful!"

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
"I worked Apple retail for a few years, but was originally hired during the holiday season of 2005. My first day on the sales floor was Black Friday. I previously had worked retail, but only at a small shoe store during college. This was unlike anything I'd ever seen before: people everywhere, screaming children, and a lot of first-world privilege.

"One of the Genius Bar customers had a total meltdown after he was told his iPod was out of warranty and was given his replacement options. He abruptly snatched the iPod out of the employee's hand, walked to the front of the store, turned around and screamed, 'MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS,' and then proceeded to launch the iPod to the back of the store — luckily without hitting anyone. Then [he] promptly exited the store.

"Minutes later, he returned to the store — with a woman, who was ostensibly his girlfriend or wife — with a solid look of shame on his face. [He] muttered an apology to the store's employees and shoppers."


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