‘Twas the Retail Nightmare Before Christmas, Pt 1

You know, when I first heard the term “Door-Buster” used for a sale, I – like any normal person – figured it was meant as a figure of speech. Some catchy slogan for the salespapers. I’m sure the store associates in this video did, too…until about 9 seconds into their workday on Black Friday.

Yep. 9 seconds.

The stampede of red-blooded, deal-scavenging American shoppers goes from zero to #$%^ing crazy in less than ten seconds. Think I’m kidding? Let’s just say these folks live up to the “Door-Buster” namesake of the sale. Literally.

For retail employees, this is but the first ten seconds of their shift. Only another 3 hours, 59 minutes, and 50 seconds to go! Makes it sound like something to look forward to, right? Not so much.

Some countries make it mandatory to serve in their military. I think, here in America, the government should make retail service mandatory. Somewhere between the teens and the twenty-somethings, many Americans will come to “serve” in the retail industry. It’s not something you come out of with a great deal of money, but if there’s one thing to be learned from working in a retail environment, it’s how to respect a store and its employees. It’s something a lot more folks could afford to learn, really.

I used to work at the outlet mall down the street some years ago.

The job usually meant dealing with a whole mess of people trying to buy as much as they could for as little as possible, if buying anything at all, and cleaning up after the damage they’d done. Dealing with that volume of people and sales is not easy on a normal day, much less a day during the Christmas shopping season.

Retail is like a juggling act.

That stocker you passed probably wears many different hats in his retail store...

If you haven’t worked retail – or have, and haven’t worked during a recession like this – you need to understand something: the guy who greeted you? Chances are, he’s not only the greeter, but the fitting room attendant (returning go-backs), the backroom inventory clerk, the cashier, and the sales associate. So, if you ask him something, and he tells you it’s going to be a minute? It’s likely because his company is making do with having one employee fulfill the roles and responsibilities of several. Unless his true calling is being a circus juggler, chances are he’s going to need some time to accomplish that much multitasking.

That was about the time I hit my own personal breaking point. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the change in décor, or the addition of Christmas-themed merchandise, or even the terrible mix of B-side Christmas songs that signaled the transformation into the holiday season: it was the mood.

And I’m not talking about Christmas cheer. Try the exact opposite of it.

The customers became impatient. Demanding. Impolite.

Now, I don’t have a story. I have many, and those three traits describe most the shoppers from my experiences.

A typical shift consisted of ringing purchases, while folding and hanging go-backs behind the counter, returning them to the floor, being asked to open a fitting room while returning them, and, on the trip back to the register, having someone ask either to undress a mannequin or check the back room for something.

Someplace in there was my fifteen-minute break, and let me tell you right now, once the sunglasses were on, and the coat was buttoned? You did not want to get between me and the designated smoking area. That fifteen minutes was this prisoner’s time out in the yard, and if you dare bugged him, you were getting verbally shanked.

That’s my story.

I’ve got a few more for you, too. We were in our weekly writers’ meeting, talking about what the holiday season means for retail business when I asked – by a show of hands – how many of us had worked retail ourselves. Much to my surprise, most of the hands around the boardroom table went up. Now that you’ve heard my story, here are some from my friends and co-workers here at QLP:

Bret B:

“Back in 1999 I was working retail sales at Best Buy. Besides the usual “kooks” that would stop in and shop every now and then, all and all – the job wasn’t THAT bad. That all changed the Friday after Thanksgiving (otherwise known as Black Friday). All employees were required to work that day and to report at the store no later than 4:00 AM for a 5:00 AM opening (Best Buy actually arranged for wake-up calls/reminders for all employees the morning of!). Anyway, 5:00 AM comes around and the store is filled to the max with people. You couldn’t move. I go to check out the first person to wrestle themselves up to my department’s cash register, I take their card, swipe it…and the store’s credit card processor was offline!

No credit cards!

Black Friday + no credit cards accepted = chaos.

It was Black Friday, the BIGGEST shopping day of the year, and for the first 2 hours, we couldn’t accept ANY credit, debit, or gift cards – it was total chaos!

Three fights broke out in the store in a matter of minutes after the announcement was made over the paging system, and it is here where I think I developed my thick skin, because the amount of crap and yelling I was subjected to [as a result of the outage] was out of this world!

Needless to say, 4 cashiers quit/walked out that day – we eventually resorted to taking carbon copies of peoples’ credit cards (only to be charged later), hand-writing receipts, and letting customers leave the store with their purchases because of overcrowding.

I’m not sure HOW much money Best Buy lost that day, but it wasn’t pretty.”

Laura P:

“Working retail during Christmas in itself is a nightmare, especially if you worked in a clothing store! I spent more than one night after the store closed refolding everything in the entire store until the wee hours of the morning.

Out of gift boxes...

What do you mean you're out of boxes? Where's your magic wand?

My favorite GAP holiday memory – and it happened every year – was when we would run out of gift boxes and have to kindly explain to the customer we were all out. At one point you could only get your gift box at the front of the store after you paid. There would be a sales associate who would distribute them based on what you bought. If you bought 1 shirt and wanted a coat box, that was a no go! I used to complain about Old Navy selling their boxes, but I understand [after that experience] that people just want free crap and will abuse the privilege.”

Joe G:

“I used to manage a liquor store in Dekalb, Illinois. During one of my shifts, I was working at the register when a young woman approached me, placed a handful of items on the counter, and asked to be checked out.

Easy enough, I thought.

The transaction began like any other: I scanned her items, bagged them, and informed her of the amount due. She appeared somewhat intoxicated – though not overly so – and I figured that she could at least handle the task of paying for her items in a timely manner.

That’s where things got interesting.

She immediately began rustling through her purse to find her wallet. It was a notably large purse, so I figured it might take her a minute. “Take your time. I can wait,” I said.

Inside this purse lies a dark, dark secret...

Cash? Check. Makeup? Check. Questionable object? Check.

Several seconds go by. Still no wallet. “Hold on just a sec,” she says, and sets her purse on the counter. She begins emptying it, one object at a time. Like I said, it was a sizeable purse, so I wasn’t particularly surprised at the array of items she started removing from it.

A makeup kit, a brush, a small mirror, etc.

I let her continue her search, figuring she’ll find her wallet momentarily. She continues emptying the bag, removing a change pouch, some assorted cosmetic products, a miniature hair dryer, a personal sex toy.

Wait, WHAT?!

Yes, a SEX TOY!

As if it were just another everyday item that women carry on their person, this girl places a considerably large and purple-colored sex object on the counter in front of me — standing straight up, mind you — and continues searching for her wallet. She must’ve been drunker than I thought.

Thankfully, she happened to have a friend with her at the time, who stepped in at that point to pay the balance, apologize for the girl’s unruly behavior, and put the offending object back in the purse. They left immediately.

One of the other employees was kind enough to douse the entire counter with disinfectant spray for me, and the entire staff was able to have a good laugh at the event when we looked at the security camera footage of it the next day.

The moral of the story?

Retail sucks, but it makes for some interesting stories.”

Hankering for more retail horror stories? You’ll have to wait in suspense until this afternoon, when we’ll reveal part two!

What’s YOUR retail horror story? Have you had the pleasure of working in a busy store on Black Friday?

Image credit to tshein.

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. amy

    I can relate to Bret’s story, but on a much smaller scale. Crate’s credit card systems would always wait until the busiest time on Saturdays to crash. Yeahhh, I don’t wish dealing with customers when that happens on my worst enemy.

    I think Joe’s is the funniest though. I couldn’t even imagine dealing with that situation. Wow!

    Can’t wait for part 2 this afternoon!!!

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    These are all true horrors. I can’t imagine the credit card machines going down during the first two hours of Black Friday. That’s terrible.

    And the sex toy? Oh boy… I can’t say I envy that fun night at the liquor store.

  3. Stantz

    I used to work in a movie theater on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day every year. I can’t recall any crazy stories at the moment, but it was just always RIDICULOUSLY busy!

  4. Rachel

    Oh man, Bret’s story gives me anxiety just reading about it! I used to work at an office supplies store, so while Christmas was very busy, the back-to-school season in late summer/early fall was by far the craziest time of year. And of course, at the start of our biggest week of the season, our servers crashed–meaning that NONE of the sales were coming up on the register. For days, we had to search through the paper sales flyer on every transaction to check if the customer’s items were on sale and enter the discounted price manually, or else rely on the customer to be honest and tell us which of their items were on sale or not. Combine this with huge crowds and lots of loud kids tagging along with Mom and Dad to buy school supplies … let’s just say it was a mess. Glad I don’t have to go through that again!

  5. Eric

    My first job in high school was working at a movie theater. I’ll always remember the day they stuck me on register #1, front-and-center, the summer afternoon the Pokemon movie premiered…we completely ran out of popcorn and all the soft drinks but two.

    Trying to explain to movie theater patrons that there is no popcorn is almost like telling a person your apparel shop ran out of clothes.

    Doesn’t go so well!

  6. Cybernetic SAM

    Well, I hate to say it, I know that Black Friday is good for the economy and all, but that one day of year is not worth the amount of insanity that ensues. I am sorry but this is a true statement of what people really are, it is truly a sick sad side of humanity. Is “stuff” really worth stampeding over people, beating, killing, harming one another — be it children the elderly or anyone for that matter? Black Friday truly brings out the worst in people and I have absolutely no desire to experience this EVER. This is the side of people that I find ironic, any of these activities outside of this day would be the ones that would never do such awful things to people, but ironic how a discounted television will literally make people turn on one another without hesitation, discretion, or limitations. Ugh. I don’t have the capacity to understand how going through this makes a better Christmas, knowing you harm physically and verbally people to get what you want?

    • Amanda

      I agree Sam. I’ve been out shopping on Black Friday twice–and will never do it again. Neither time did I buy anything worth my time and aggravation. And to see people act like that is so sad. I do most of my shopping online now, and having to pay shipping here and there is worth it!!! =)

      • Eric

        If you haven’t, watch the video link at the beginngin of my article. You’d think it was footage from some Hollywood film set at the advent of the apocalypse. The crowd LITERALLY breaks down the door and almost crushes the employees behind it. Far from the Christmas spirit, there. Who parented these people? Last I checked, throwing a tantrum or beating someone up didn’t entitle you to something anything more than anyone else.

  7. Amanda

    Wow–these stories are really something! I can’t imagine being behind the counter on black friday–that has to be the hardest day of the year to work in a store! What a story Joe! I don’t know what I would’ve done in that situation–I don’t know if I could keep myself from laughing out loud all night after that. LOL

  8. Jen

    I can also relate to Bret’s story, when the power went out or the computer system went off-line at Menards, it was a nightmare. It’s near impossible to do anything when that happens, and the customers just never understood that. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that happening on Black Friday though. Bret you’re a brave man.

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