It’s the most wonderful time of the year, where children run around stores grabbing every colorful light, and people yell at the cashier for not having an overstock of XL ugly Christmas sweaters. People wait all year for the satisfaction of knowing they have purchased an item at the lowest price, but at what cost?
Is it at the cost of degrading people who work hard to make these celebrations special for consumers who seem to have an agenda against the people who greet them as they walk into their stores?
Retail is a very demanding job that at first seems to offer you a safety net that provides flexible hours and a little extra money in your pocket, until the holidays come around.
Holidays can be overwhelming, but people tend to forget that the excitement, stress and fatigue goes both ways. Shoppers probably don’t stop to think about the fact that all the things they pick up and later discard around the store must find their way back to their section.
“People should at least work in retail once in their life to understand how it really is to have to deal with people like themselves because we are impatient as humans, and we want everything as fast as the snap of our fingers,” said Jonathan Enriquez, SF State creative writing major who has been working for a year in retail at Levi’s.
There are various holidays year-round that cause stress for retail workers, including Valentine’s Day, Easter, Independence Day and Christmas. But among them, the holiday that retailers despise the most is the nightmare before Christmas — Black Friday.
The worst part about working in retail is that most of the people who work at regular stores — like Target, Trader Joe’s, Forever 21, H&M or Levi’s — are just college students on a budget trying to get enough money to pay for school. Some of them are having their first insight into adulthood while working a “temporary” job that many maintain throughout college and often after that. Many have a bitter experience that lingers in their memories for the rest of their lives.
Eighty percent of students work at least part-time, according to MarketWatch. “Students are working hard, a new study finds, taking on part-time and even sometimes full-time jobs to avoid racking up more debt while in school.”
There are a lot of downsides regarding retail, including managers who don’t see their worker as a hard-working, responsible individual. Instead, management abuses the fact that many students need a job and therefore will walk all over them.
“I found myself many times having to bite my tongue and suck it up in order to keep my job and pay my bills,” said Jianing Shau, SF State communications major who worked at O’Neill outlets.
“One experience I remember while working on Black Friday is that this guy came in and he started making conversation with me and then he was like, ‘Oh, like, what are you, Chinese?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah,’” Shau said. “He then started to say things like, ‘Oh, I love Chinese women. I love how submissive they are; like they listened to like anything that is told to them.’ These are the type of things that mess with my personal values.”
This type of harassment is something retailer workers have to deal with on a regular basis, yet they can’t report it because they fear getting fired. Shau explained that sometimes paying the bills is what students prioritize, and even though it is understandable, the cost of these types of situations is not worth it.
“Working on Black Friday really opens your eyes and makes you humanize the experience and people that work in stores because we just tend to want everything fast,” Enriquez said. “These are humans with emotions and these are people that really work hard and retail is a very difficult job and it does require a lot of patience, a lot of energy.”
For most stores, Black Friday is one of the most important days of the year. For most retail companies, it is mandatory for employees to work that day and it is one of the requirements you sign when you start working.
Being in college is hard enough with constant assignments, projects, and midterms, but having to work on holidays is even worse. As much as one wishes to stay home and relax for a few days, that is not always the reality. Perhaps our priorities go to the wrong places.
We prioritize money, and it’s ironic that most holidays talk about money not being important and that family is the most important thing. Many retail employees have to work from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Thanksgiving night.
“Working Black Friday is hard, but overall, it’s what you make out of it,” said Carlos Guerrero, a visual social media retailer who works at Rolo, a men’s boutique shop.
Guerrero explained that his experience has been very positive, and that when we work on the holidays, we get to experience how people really are and become understanding of others.
In my experience, having to work on the holidays makes you reconsider your life decisions. You stop to think about the things that really matter, like gathering with families and friends to celebrate life. But what are retail workers doing?
They are not spending time with their loved ones. Instead, they have to deal with greedy people on the hunt for a discount bigger than the last.
Thanksgiving and Black Friday are bundled in one package, in which I find myself away from my loved ones and surrounded by people who seem to be more concerned about material things than spending quality time with the people that matter most to them.
I encourage people to work retail at least once in their lives to experience humanity at its worse, yet sometimes, at its best — because not every customer is rude and not every retailer is nice.