The Unsung Heroes of Black Friday

Black Friday – it’s a relatively new thing, right? It’s an American thing, yeah?

No. And originally, yes. But not now.

The origin of Black Friday is, as the name suggests, actually rooted in negativity.

The first recorded use of the phrase dates to 1869 and had nothing to do with Christmas shopping. It was the day plummeting gold prices caused a market crash, the effects of which decimated the US economy for years to come.

Despite its origins, it has become a widespread phenomenon – and very much a calendar date for retailers worldwide.

Black Friday is back with a bang this year, with shoppers expected to spend almost £9.2bn at the weekend… 15% more than in 2020 when much of the UK was in lockdown.

Despite struggles with sourcing stock and recruiting drivers for home deliveries, retailers are bullish this year for the event, which typically accounts for more sales than Christmas week itself.

In what is likely to be a widespread problem, toy shop The Entertainer was experiencing problems with agency staff not turning up for shifts in its warehouses – even though it is offering retention bonuses for workers who stay on until Christmas.

“In the first three days of this week, we have had 86 people not turn up for work, and that has a huge impact on your productivity… If we can’t pick it, we can’t get it on a lorry, and the shop can’t have their stock delivery….” – Gary Grant / The Entertainer Founder

The Entertainer are not alone. Many large retailers are having to bring in additional workforce and incentivise workers to join during their busiest time.

So, as our seemingly insatiable need to consume grows, surely, we should take a moment to consider those involved in fulfilling it?

Working conditions for those involved in ensuring our Christmas is suitably plush by helping make Black Friday happen cannot be ignored.

I used to work in a bookshop part-time when I was a student. I used to dread the Christmas rush. Rude, pushy lines of people with zero consideration for the poor sap furiously scanning and bagging their armfuls of presents they’d bought.

Yes, in the 20-something years since I left the books business, the retail landscape has changed.

And it isn’t a consideration purely for the high street, but online retailers too. Do you think that your Amazon parcels magically materialise once you push ‘Buy It Now’? No matter the degree of automation at play, there is an army of real people working bloody hard to make sure your PS5 (or whatever) arrives before Christmas.

Yes, I’m sure some retail workers will love the buzz of Black Friday, but the relentless onslaught of customers, combined with scope for frayed tempers, inconsiderate behaviour or (worst case) actual violence, shouldn’t be underestimated.

No wonder businesses are trying to incentivise people to join them. Seemingly, the financial rewards can be quite generous. But working in a hostile climate is a recipe for disaster.

Businesses should remember that their organisation is only as good as their employees (the link between Employee Experience (EX) and Customer Experience (CX) is irrefutable and indestructible)… But we as consumers should really think about how we support these human beings who are so critical in providing us with the service we want.

Longer hours, bad tempers, lack of support (and more) lead to unacceptable working environments for many.

This is just one (of many) articles dedicated to the ‘hellscape’ that is Black Friday:

…Which concludes with a wonderful point we should all reflect upon this week:

“If you do choose to shop, try to shop small, and be kind. Retail and service workers are supporting themselves and families with this work—and often sacrificing time with their own loved ones to do it. Remember, nobody is entitled to be able to buy holiday presents at midnight on Black Friday, or even at 12 p.m. It’s a remarkable privilege, and one, quite frankly, that should be revoked, or at least, heavily reformed.” 

Hear Hear.

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