Black Friday. It’s a term that sends men screaming for the hills and women dashing for the stores. It’s a day that retail stores wait for all year. It’s a day that screams, “COMMERCIALISM!” to the world and expects you to bow down before it. I have been a Black Friday shopper and a Black Friday employee and this is what I think about it.

First of all for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “Black Friday,” here is a brief lesson for you. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving dubbed, “the official start to the holiday shopping season.” The truth is, these days many people do their shopping WAY ahead of time and I already know of many people who are completely done with their holiday shopping. But, I digress. The reason Thanksgiving Friday earned the title “Black Friday” is because it is the day when many retailers get in ‘the black’ for the year. “The Black” is a financial term meaning, not in debt. So, Black Friday is retail heaven. For shoppers, retailers provide HUGE discounts on popular merchandise and then reap the benefits of the shoppers in mass.

One of the draws of Black Friday shopping is that stores open extrememly early allowing shoppers to complete their shopping and have the rest of the day to spend with family. In years past, it was usual for stores to open their doors around 4a..m. Now, many retailers can’t wait until then and are choosing to provide even more shopping hours by opening at 12a.m. While this is technically not the holiday, employees generally have to arrive at work an hour or more before the store is scheduled to open. I even heard a commercial for Toys ‘R Us today that mentioned they would have ‘doorbusters’ starting at 9p.m. on Thanksgiving. Wal-mart is opening at 10p.m. on Thanksgiving night.

As a former Black Friday employee, I am somewhat appalled by this. It is unfair to expect that anyone should have to give up precious time with family and friends to work on a holiday. I can say from experience that having to leave a family gathering simply because you have to work the next morning, or not even attend that gathering in the first place, is heartwrenching. For me, I only get to see certain family members this time of year and I have missed time with them in the past due to my work schedule. If I were a holiday employee today, I would vote down having to work on Thanksgiving. It’s enough that employees have to work so early the next day, which already cuts down their time with loved ones.

That being said, for many retailers, when you hire on as a ‘seasonal’ employee, you are expected to work certain days and have more open availability than the ‘regular’ staff. In fact, many retailers use this time of year to assess seasonal employees for permanent hire positions. The thought behind that is if you can make it through the busiest shopping season of the year and do it well, you are worth keeping on staff. So, the coporate mandate of when a store can open on Black Friday isn’t entirely to blame. As an employee, you know you are accepting some of this responsibility. It is spelled out in black and white when you hire on as a seasonal employee.

As I mentioned, I have been a shopper of Black Friday and intend to be one again this year. It is fun to go out and get good deals and most people, with a few exceptions, are plesant to be around. My advice to anyone interested in doing shopping on Black Friday is to have a game plan. In Thursday’s paper should be all the ads for the major retailers. Take your time, look through them and make a list. Prioritize your shopping by which items are the most popular, items you don’t want to miss out on and what stores open first. You may choose to use the old-fashioned pen and paper for this task, but there are several mobile apps that can help.

Black Friday for iPhone/iPad is a decent app. It lists all the ads for the stores and allows users to create lists directly from the app. I can also recommend the website blackfriday.info to look up ads prior to their release in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper. I’ve looked up many Black Friday ad websites and this one is my favorite. It also allows you to create a shopping list from the ads listed. Blackfriday.info gives you the Black Friday ads as a categorized list or users can view the ads as a scan. The biggest difference between the website and the mobile app that I’ve found is that the website is much more accurate and easy to use.

Happy shopping!