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Black Friday: Tales from behind the counter and the end of the line

Eric Niehoff

Advertising Manager

Black Friday is the one shopping day every year where consumers lose their minds and spend hours waiting in lines to scoop up the most amazing of deals at their favorite retailers. Working as a retail manager for more than nine years, I always had mixed emotions about the day. On one hand, it was exciting to see the huge boost in sales. It usually meant having quadruple the sales of a typical holiday shopping day. On the other hand, the diminishing profit margin always scared me. If people only bought the “door buster” specials, the chance at making a profit were slim. To combat this while my employees scrambled to help customers find everything they wanted, I would make sure customers had all of the accessories they needed.

Stress runs high on a day like this. The biggest challenge is keeping customers and employees happy. Typically, there is one major rush as the store opens up, then things slow down a bit. After that, a store sees waves of people throughout the day as shoppers shuffle from store to store to take advantage of the sales. Once the initial rush has come and gone, the adrenaline keeps you going for a while, but by close of business everyone is running out of steam. Frequent breaks (when possible) are the only way to keep your sanity. I used to provide food, candy and other refreshments so employees could escape the frenzy and refuel.

Now that I have returned to school and no longer work in retail, I was able to experience this crazy shopping day from a customer’s perspective. I attended a Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart. I am not an avid Wal-Mart shopper, nor did I choose this retailer for the deals they were offering. It was more a matter of convenience. In the past, big retailers have been criticized for their handling of huge crowds. People got trampled, items ran out too quickly, and the staff was insufficient to handle the crowds. Not exactly the message of goodwill that this holiday season is meant to send. This particular year, Wal-Mart did not actually have their doors closed before the sale.  You could be in the store hours before the sale started and scope out what you wanted. This made the crowd much more manageable – at least in the beginning.

 

Shoppers wait in line during a Black Friday sale at Nebraska Furniture Mart Friday, Nov. 27, 2009 in Kansas City, Kan.
Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

By the time the sale started the store was packed. I was there with my wife and my mother so between the three of us we filled a shopping cart. We had to quickly navigate the store to grab what we wanted. Luckily, since we had gotten there early we had mapped out our route. The intention is to grab items for gifts but inevitably you end up grabbing a few things for yourself. With the shopping cart filled, it was time to check out. The line for check out snaked through the entire store. There was a lot of confusion and quite a few people trying to cheat the system for a speedier check out. I think we waited about an hour and a half just to pay. The feeling quickly changes from excitement while you are finding the deals to frustration with service as you wait to get out of there. It is amazing what people will do to save a little money.

At Student Media, we’re saving our big discount until January, when students return from a long winter break, refreshed for the start of the spring semester. We do have a couple of television broadcasts (Nov. 30 and Dec. 7), newspaper editions (Nov. 29 and Dec. 6) and live basketball games (Dec. 1) to knock out before Christmas rolls around. But our loyal blog readers get notice now of our January kiosk special. When you purchase a “Rowdy Bucks” listing for the first week of classes (Jan. 21), we’ll throw in a second week for free (Jan.28).

Although we don’t anticipate a Black Friday rush in our office, we’d love to hear about your Black Friday experiences. And, of course, we want to know from you, where are the best deals this year?

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