How To Survive A Black Friday Tour Of Duty (As a Worker)

I’ve worked in a “support” capacity in Retailville for a little more than 10 years now. And before that, I did a tour of duty in the “trenches,” which means (ugh) working at a cash register. There is nothing…absolutely nothing…in this world that will bring out my thousand-yard stare faster than chaining me to  a cash register.


My graphic designer husband used PhotoShop effects to provide the “zombie” effects (no makeup). This photo is the best example of me with a “thousand yard stare.”

There is no more soul-draining of a life experience than waiting on customers and even more soul draining is pretending you’re nice while you’re doing it. Only one job is more soul-sapping – and that’s working at a freeway toll both. If I had THAT job, I’d probably go Sonny Corleone on myself after a couple of hours.


At least one of these bullets wound up killing Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

Perhaps it was a wise supervisor some time ago who decided that my best uses as a retail worker would be in a more “behind the scenes” capacity. Lots of things happen behind the scenes in Retailville that people don’t even know about. First off, the merchandise needs to be unloaded from a semi. Then it needs to be unpackaged, which in retail speak generally means “breaking down the pallets.” Each individual box is opened and broken down, and the merchandise inside is “processed,” which means it’s organized, sized, hung, colorized and ultimately placed on carts and sent to the sales floor.  Soft plastic wrappings may be corralled separately and sent for recycling. Speaking of recycling, the cardboard box you broke down might be placed in a “baler,” which is a noisy machine that compresses all of the cardboard into a pallet-sized cube about four feet tall and weighing a few hundred pounds or more. Your standard cardboard baler may or may not pre-date World War 2. You’ve probably fantasized about throwing someone in there at one point or another.

Other “behind the scenes” tasks include making sure signs on the sales floor are up to date, replenishing merchandise from stock rooms, reverse logistics (sending back pallets, reusable boxes, hangers, etc.), package pickup (setting aside merchandise purchased by customers so they can pick it up later), boxing up defective/damaged merchandise and sending it back, restocking unwanted merchandise (returns, fitting rooms, etc.), putting up special event signs, marking down merchandise and placing it on clearance racks, picking up hangers from cash registers, boxing them and sending them back and picking up the security tags. Some theft-prone merchandise will have a security tag placed on them, some of which might expel ink if a thieving jackhole tries prying it off. Occasionally a clueless register clerk will remove the tags, and… put them back together. Which means a “behind the scenes” worker is left with the task of “unmarrying” the tags.

I went to the drapery department last night to “unmarry” some security tags. I picked this register because it was the least busy at the time. I said to the register guy, Michael, that I was going to use his tag remover to “divorce” the tags.

“Aww, that’s too bad,” he said of my choice of wording.

Ever the smart aleck, I said, “It’s all right, they’ll be better off if they’re apart. They were only staying together for the kids, anyway.” He chuckled at my corny joke…

So how does a “behind the scenes” worker in Retailville survive a Black Thursday/Black Friday shift? Well, I’ve learned a few tricks over the past few years…

How to Survive a Black Thursday/Black Friday Shift (Behind the Scenes)


Know what merchandise customers are losing their shit for and make sure to fill as much of it to the floor as possible. The “Twelve Days of Socks” seems to be a  hot seller for the 2018 holiday season.
  • Avoid crowded main aisles like the plague.
  • Do not make eye contact with customers. Don’t go to them, let them come to you. It’s far too busy to be able to provide one-on-one service unless you’re compelled to do it.
  • Make use of all perimeters. Hug the walls like a rat if necessary. The extra steps will make your FitBit thingy happy. And you can brag about how many steps you took in social media and annoy your lazy-ass friends.
  • Stockrooms are your best friend. Learn your store’s layout so as to avoid aisles and use stockrooms like “wormholes” to go from Point A to Point B. Stock rooms are also a great place to cool off, since sales floors can be overly heated, and you’re probably working up a bit of a sweat!
  • Stay hydrated. If your employer is providing cold bottled water, drink as many of those as you can. This is especially vital if you have to work an overnight shift (it helps keeps you awake).
  • Anticipate. See what items are going to be “hot” for customers and make sure stock rooms are completely depleted of these items. Also learn what items have sold out so you’re not going on a wild goose chase for a customer.
  • React. If multiple customers are asking about the same merchandise, make sure you’re checking to see if it can be restocked. Example I noticed in my shift last night was the “Twelve Days of Socks.”
  • Stay as busy as possible so as to avoid having a busybody supervisor think you need something to do. Straighten merchandise, pick up stray trash, put away unwanted merchandise, etc.
  • Use every simple machine you can. Make sure you know where your hand truck is.
  • It may be completely unavoidable to go to the cash register area. If you do have to go there, make your time there is as brief as possible. Be very polite to the workers (they are dealing with far worse crap that you are). Avoid “unmanned” registers as you WILL get duped into ringing up a customer if you go near them.
  • Be as polite as possible when asking customers to get the fuck out of your way. They WILL be in your way! Please and thank you cannot be used enough.
  • The best tip is to not have to work during this weekend AT ALL!

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