It’s like our Super Bowl’: A retailer’s view of Black Friday

Store leader Michelle Allen is seen with a holiday display in her JCPenney store Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 at the Meadows Mall.

Michelle Allen, the store leader at the Meadows mall branch of JCPenney for the past year, has been preparing for what she calls the Super Bowl of retail: Black Friday. The company, which is pushing a new concept of staging fewer sales year-round and offering lower daily prices instead, is promoting one of its rarer sale days.

Allen will be working at the front entrance, ground floor. After 25 years in retail, 21 of them with JCPenney, it's where she prefers to be stationed on Black Friday — the point position.

She'll lead a workforce that has ballooned from its usual size of about 190 employees to 250 for the holidays.

"Everyone will be working Black Friday," Allen said. "We open at 6 a.m. this year, so it's a little bit later opening than we've had other years. It's a kind of cool thing that our company is doing because they want our team members and our customers to be able to enjoy their time with their family, so we open a little bit later, and we close at 11 p.m."

So what's it like to be on the selling side of the biggest shopping day of the year? Allen sat down for an interview this week to offer her perspective.

What was last Black Friday like?

We opened at 4 a.m., so it was a little bit different. But I would expect it to be similar this year. People get this advertising and they really — the people who come in here on Black Friday — they study this. They know what the promotions are, what stores they're going to go into, so I would expect that we'll have a long line of people waiting in line at 6 a.m. when we open our doors. We definitely will.

What's the atmosphere like on that day?

It's fun. It really is. The people who shop for Black Friday are not the same. This is not your last-minute customer. It's the people who really, truly enjoy shopping. It's the people who enjoy getting a bargain. I mean, you'll see groups of people that will come in, and they'll have matching sweatshirts, like team shopping. It's really fun, and I've seen it over the years. It's become more of a tradition, becoming more and more almost like a sport. ... The customers, they know it's going to be busy. As long as you're staffed correctly and you've got the merchandise they're looking for, people are actually pretty patient. It's a fun atmosphere. I know it sounds crazy that people get up so early and come out and shop, but they really enjoy it. Some people even come out in their pajamas. Yup, you see everything that day.

Have you seen any crazy things or worrying things?

I haven't seen any crazy fights or anything like that. It's a really fun, a really positive experience.

How do you handle customers who are upset? What do you say?

We try to accommodate whatever we can, but the reality is that sometimes you run out of items, and you can try to accommodate customers ... you always have to remember that people are people.

How is Black Friday in terms of stress?

Obviously, when you're talking about that kind of traffic, it's a stressful day. It's about training your associates to take care of customers and to keep calm.

What are the big challenges on Black Friday?

Any time that you're dealing with crowds and the lines ... on the actual day the biggest thing that you're trying to do is maintain control and make sure that customers are happy.

How many hours did you work last Black Friday?

Geez, I don't remember. We can pretty much bank on 10 to 12 hours for the leadership. It goes fast. It's our bread and butter, so it's a really important day to us. It's like our Super Bowl.

Do you celebrate after?

I think you're just really tired. It's kind of like after you run a race. You're tired, but it's good tired, like you feel good. It's a kickoff to the holiday season.

Do you do any shopping on Black Friday?

It's tough for us to shop on that day, but we have special events for our team members so that they can shop and they can get the good prices, too. Our team members already get a 25 percent discount; we give them an extra 10 percent discount.

Have you heard from customers — are they excited and asking questions about the sales?

That's what's cool. ... We can tell our customers, "We're having a sale that day," which is an anamoly for us, and I'm kind of asking people, "Will you be coming back for Black Friday?" "Will you be coming back for shopping?" and a lot of them are in here kind of scoping merchandise out now so that they can come back and shop then.

Are there any items you're really expecting to sell well?

We'll sell a lot of winter boots, winter coats, sweaters. Sleepwear is a big item. Fine jewelry is big. ... The home items are always big sellers: kitchen electrics, those kind of giftable items are always big. You can look at our items and see that we've got a lot of good price-pointed items.

There tends to be a rush toward the door. Are you going to have security hanging out there?

We've got plenty of staffing. We do have security within the store, but it hasn't really been a problem in the past for us.

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