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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Black Friday

Arriving at 11:50pm to start my Black Friday shift, I was unable to park anywhere near my usual location, and ended up in a far flung lot usually occupied by RVs. I've never seen the carpark so full; clearly this was not going to be a normal day's work.

I walked in chatting with another employee who had similarly parked, and passing a line of people queuing inside the door. The store is open 24 hours, so there was no need for them to queue, but I needed to clock in and meet my supervisor, so I passed on. My shift had originally been scheduled for a 2am start, but a couple of days earlier it was changed (verbally) to midnight, along with all the other 2am starts. That suited me as I would be out earlier, and I wasn't going to get any rest between midnight and 2am anyway. Management had failed to update our shifts on the timeclock, so it took ten times longer than usual to clock in. I then joined the rest of the midnight starters in a brief meeting, and my "A Team" set off for our queue line.

Our WalMart is open 24 hours, so in order to try to calm things down some sales items weren't available until later in the day, 5am in the case of the Electronics department. We also had a dozen or so "Hot Items", for which people would have to queue, and my assignment was the first hot item, which turned out to be a 32" Emerson HDTV, on sale for $198. Customers were already waiting when we set up the queue start point, and within five minutes we had thirty people lined up waiting. They rapidly and calmly passed along to the queue area, which was between two freezer units of ice cream and frozen dinners. My duty was to ensure people didn't skip across some caution tape and try to queue jump.

It soon became clear that I had very little to do. A new person would join the line every few minutes, but I was able to inform people that we had 82 TVs, so everyone so far in line would get theirs, and there was no need for concern. In fact we would allow up to six TV sets to a person, and my supervisor passed along the line handing out queue tickets with a number circled to indicate how many TVs everyone wanted. Some customers who had come in teams were able to release all but one queueholder, and go shopping elsewhere. A few aisles up from me, within sight but outside of speaking distance, the "B Team" were having a quieter time. Their item was a 32" Samsung TV at $328, and it was clear that most people prefer price over quality, because they only had four people in their queue. An Emerson is an OK TV, but a cursory examination of the TVs on offer shows anyone who cares that they occupy the lower end of the spectrum.

Thus passed the first quarter of my shift. One member of our team from the night crew (who start at ten) had to leave around 1:30am for their lunch break, and I moved further up the line to maintain order. Nobody was misbehaving and I chatted amiably with several customers, waiting for 2am when we would hand out wristbands and disperse the queue.  2am arrived, we handed out wristbands, the queue dispersed, and I was free to take a short break. I looked in briefly on my colleagues in Electronics, where it had been two hours of near-chaos. Several PDQs (temporary display units) had been set up with DVDs and Blu-Rays at bargain prices, but due to the average shopper's inability to put an item back where they found it if they decide not to purchase, the DVDs were wandering everywhere. I spent a few minutes trying to zone (i.e. tidy up), but I was fighting the tide, and having learnt from King Cnut I decided to retreat to the relative calm of the break room.

Returning to my station, we had the task of handing out the remaining wristbands (we had plenty left) to any latecomers, and guarding several pallets of Emerson TVs which were wheeled out at about 3am ready for distribution to the customers. As nobody else was stepping up to the plate I went back to guard the TVs. This was the most boring part of the day for me, as the TVs were not going anywhere and I had nobody to talk to, apart from the odd shopper who thought that 3am on Black Friday was the perfect time to buy bananas. I was relieved about 4:20am so I could take my 1/2 hour lunch break and be ready for the handout to start at 5am. Normally we get an hour (off the clock) for lunch, but this time it was shortened, so I stayed in the break room and chatted with colleagues about our day so far. I learnt that the C Team had had a much harder time. Their item was a laptop computer for around $200, and they had less than 20 to allocate, so many customers were disappointed. Moreover, some of these were the people I had seen queuing, who thought (had been told?) they had to wait for a map before progressing to their chosen item. There was a general ruckus, and Management had to come mob-handed and sort it out.

5am, and the time came to hand out the TVs. I alternated with my supervisor cutting off wristbands with blunt-nosed scizzors, and a team of three manouvered the TVs off the pallets and into people's shopping carts. I tried to ensude they put them in with the UPC and serial number visible for the cashiers to scan. A few people had not brought a cart (d'uh), or only one and needed a second, but we had prepared for that by lining up a few spares, so no worries. As an aside, if you go to a WalMart to buy a TV, think about how that TV is going to exit the store, get to, and fit into your vehicle. It is astounding how many people don't.

In the queue for TV pickup were a few people who had not got wristbands so we had to turn them away, with the understanding that if by 6:30am any TVs were unclaimed by wristbandees, they were up for grabs again. I could not fully blame these latecomers, as the wristband system was not widely explained to customers (I never saw a poster or other information source except a sheet I had been given at a meeting several weeks earlier), while TV adverts had been proclaiming a 5am start for the Electronics sale. Most of these people accepted that they would have to wait quietly, but one especially obnoxious lady insisted she was first in the queue, marched up to the front of the queueing area, partly blocking the aisle for others, and then yammered on about how she was first. She wasn't as it happens, and the man who was naturally came forward and got in front of her, and they went at it for a while. We more or less left them to it, and the matter resolved itself without fisticuffs.

We continued to hand out TVs to wristbandees, while the half a dozen non-wristbandees stood waiting in the hopes of a TV. We only had seven or eight left to allocate by this time, and as there were already four other staff present I suggested to my supervisor that I should return to my department to help my colleagues there, and she concurred. Thus I missed the denouement, but learnt later that enough people with wristbands failed to return that everyone present when I left got a TV, so that was lucky. Why anyone would queue for a wristband and NOT come back for the TV is beyond me, but there you go.

Back on my home turf in Electronics, my Department Manager was now present so I reported to her for orders. My first task was to get some more store gift cards which were running low. As part of the sale many items were offering a gift card with the purchase (e.g. an 8GB iPod Touch, normally $225, was still $225 but now came with a $50 gift card. Thus we keep the money in store). I zoomed up to the front registers, collected about 200 gift cards, and took them back to our registers. My next task was to help TV purchasers at the TV Wall, and we had a particular 32" Vizio TV that everyone was asking for. After my boss and I sold six in quick succession, alternately serving customers, a backroom colleage suggested we bring out the whole pallet and set it on the floor, so after checking with management I did just that, with a bit of rearrangement of the existing displays.

Time for my last break, and then to plunge into the remainder of my shift. Having had about two hours sleep in the last 26 hours, and 13 hours worked of the last 21, this passed in an exhausted blur fuelled mostly by adrenaline. One lady bought a 37" Vizio TV that she could have had the following day for $130 less, as we had another sale coming (more on that below), but as she was leaving the area she couldn't wait. I helped her get it into her car (we do this with the bigger TVs and more fragile customers) and she offered me a $5 tip which I refused gently, asking her to give it to charity. I'm not sure if WalMart have a policy against tips but they probably do. That trip to the parking lot gave me a chance for a breath of fresh air and to see some daylight, and it took about 20 minutes to complete the sale. At 9am I bid my colleagues a cheery and weary farewell, and headed home for a shower and couple of hours sleep.


Now, my apologies to people who have been waiting for this report, but my Black Friday was followed by a 7am start on Grey Saturday (a second smaller sale for those who missed Black Friday), another 7am start on Off-White Sunday, and a 10am start on Almost Normal Monday, all full 8-hour shifts, so I haven't had much time or energy for my blog. Shortly before I left work at 7pm yesterday things still weren't 100% straight after BF, and I was informed that the Regional Manager would be coming round Tuesday for a walk round and we had to have everything shop shape. We had been trying to get straight since Saturday morning, but even Monday was far busier with customers than usual, and it's the day we have to reset a number of DVD, Blu-Ray and games modules ready for new titles that come out at Midnight. When it comes to customer service vs. anything else we are supposed to do, customer service always comes first, even if I'm on my hands and knees trying to rescue DVDs that have fallen behind the stacks and the enquiry is for some obscure film that hasn't been seen by more than three people not directly involved in its production. ahem.

I'll be in again this evening, my 6th consecutive day with a shift, but by then the regional visit will be over, and Tuesday evenings are not known for their extreme liveliness.

Black Friday, by the way, is NOT the official WalMart term for this day of shopping madness, but it is the name everyone uses, shoppers and staff, across the country. It refers to the fact that most shopping occurs before sunrise, and is not in any way a racial slur, though some people think that the word Black used in any context is inherently bad. It isn't. WalMart officially referred to this day as "The Event", but that term is neither especially descriptive nor understood, nor is this term passed on to the customers and is thus inevitably ignored.

3 comments:

  1. Sounds like you managed! The front page Black Friday story locally was about a family who began camping out at the Annapolis Best Buy (a big box electronics and appliance retailer) at 6:00am on THANKSGIVING morning so they could be first in line when Best Buy opened its doors at 4:45am Friday. They were very pleased with their success, snagging 4 laptops and a pile of other electronics, saving about $2000. They consider such shopping endeavors an extreme sport. I guess I consider avoiding such ways of saving money a luxury!

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  2. M, thank you for doing this report! I was quite looking forward to it. Wow, you must be tired!! Do you get a day off anytime soon? I quite loved this line:
    "I had nobody to talk to, apart from the odd shopper who thought that 3am on Black Friday was the perfect time to buy bananas."

    Ha ha!! What wit!

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  3. The term Black Friday actually comes from it traditionally being the day when department stores go from red ink for the year (losing money) to black ink (making money). It's one of those odd things someone made up for a newspaper story and it stuck. I doubt it's true for most retailers. The weekend before Christmas is usually bigger.

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