Black Friday ain’t exactly canceled this year — come on, this is America! — but it’s going to look a lot different. Stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy are spreading out their holiday sales over November and December, both in-store and especially online. There are going to be lines, but not the ones with people camping out in the frozen tundra of a big-box parking lot on Thanksgiving night that you normally see on the local news. Instead, there will likely be orderly — or maybe disorderly — queues of single-file lines outside the store. And inside, there will be reminders to socially distance, one-way lines and regular sanitization of carts.
In other words, no mayhem? No stress? No brawls over the last Lego box, flatscreen TV or Nintendo Switch? Hmmm… sounds unlikely, but let’s see! To find out how else it might be different, we asked three security guards and loss-prevention officers what they won’t be missing about Black Friday 2020.
The Craziness of It All
Jack, shopping mall security guard in the Great Lakes region: I’ve worked four or five Black Fridays now. Foot traffic is higher, but Black Fridays are no more chaotic than any other day — however, the stress of the holidays can cause people to act weird. Basically that’s my favorite part of the job: I go into each shift not knowing what’ll happen and I quite enjoy that. It’s almost the exact opposite of when I worked a “normal” corporate job at a desk for 40 hours.
Eric, former loss-prevention officer for the largest big-box chain in the South: I worked Black Friday for five years. We’d get easily 10 to 15 times the amount of people normally shopping; it’s chaotic from open to close. We would also contract law enforcement, as our store security has limits as far as chasing potential thieves and breaking up fights.
Frank, former loss-prevention officer: I’ve worked on Black Friday four times over the years. They’re always more hectic, and the shifts were typically longer than normal. I didn’t dread working on Black Friday, as I often looked forward to the overtime pay. Compared to other days, you definitely do see a mass influx of shoppers, though in my experience, the amount of shoppers showing up in retail stores has diminished over the years. I suppose I’d attribute that to the rise of online shopping and the slow, painful death of traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Eric: Our hours were reduced and staggered a bit the rest of the week so we could be all hands on deck for Black Friday. If I remember correctly, we were given gift cards one year — to our own store.
Jack: The best part is the extended hours — and the chances of overtime go up along with holiday pay. OT probably won’t match what we were making during the protests, but it’ll still be nice.
Frank: There’s always a rise in confrontations just due to the thefts skyrocketing during that time. It’s not uncommon to have three times the amount of people detained and given to police custody by the end of the night.
Seeing the Worst of Humanity
Eric: It’s definitely a dreadful experience! It’s constant awareness from open to close. The store is packed, shoplifters try to take advantage of the commotion and all the customers are constantly screaming at each other. The only feel-good moments I can think of were helping to find children who were separated from their parents in all the commotion. That happens more often than you’d think.
Jack: Fights and confrontations happen: Put a lot of people together, a number of them stressed out, and something is bound to snap. Typically, though, fights aren’t over items — usually it’s over an outside beef or Facebook drama. Seriously. They get into an argument and then they run into each other and decide to fight. Or they’ll agree to meet at the mall to fight. Overall, most conflicts are from the stress of the holidays, almost like in summer when it gets really hot and humid out.
Eric: Fights are pretty commonplace. All of our big-deal items were in limited quantity and very rarely would meet the demand. Shoppers would fight over pretty much anything that was near selling out. You could almost feel the powder-keg energy from the crowd. From my first year, we had police on site to help break up fights and any trouble that’s brewing.
The Last Item
Frank: My most memorable memory of Black Friday is witnessing a man get into a fistfight over the last copy of a video game in the parking lot.
Eric: One year, due to some bad planning, we had a flyer advertising a 60-inch LED television for almost half off, but we only received four of them. About 50 people showed up trying to buy one. The mob started in the electronics section, but since the TV was so large, the person carrying it could only try to get away and it spilled over into the main aisle of the store near the cash registers. All hell broke loose there, with four people who managed to get the TV hunkered down trying to protect it while the rest of their family would fight off the crowd. It took several minutes for the police to break up the fight. One of the TVs was broken (two people picked it up and threw it at another guy), and the whole area had to be cleared for the cleaning crew to go in to mop up the blood and sweep up the teeth.
That was the largest fight I’d ever seen. After that, for high-value items, we started issuing tickets to the people who were lined up outside. They’d occasionally fight over the tickets, but the police were outside the store as well so it wasn’t nearly as bad.
… And the Good
Eric: I miss the camaraderie of my co-workers — being in such an insane situation, you become great friends with your team. I won’t miss anything else though: I’ve come to value peace and quiet a lot. I won’t call it post-traumatic stress, but I definitely don’t want to be anywhere near a brick-and-mortar store around Thanksgiving at all.
Will This Year Actually Be Different?
Frank: I assume COVID is going to lessen the amount of shoppers, though I’ve seen people risk far more for far less when it comes to getting the best deals possible.
Eric: With all the online deals and COVID, I think it’ll be a little more calm… maybe? I’d never underestimate customers trying to get a good deal. They’d probably risk Ebola to get 30 percent off of a flat screen.