Behind the Curtain: The Careers That Make Black Friday Happen

For many, Black Friday is as special a day as any of the holidays it falls between. We balance out the tranquility of Thanksgiving by trudging out in the wee hours of the morning and waiting in line for the chance to bullrush our way toward some good deals, in an animalistic ritual of consumerism. Some participate for the deals, some for the experience, others just to peoplewatch. But no matter your reason or whether you plan to take part at all, you have to acknowledge that Black Friday is a uniquely American tradition and a truly fascinating institution.
Almost half of the US population does some shopping on the weekend of Black Friday. Something this big doesn’t just happen on its own. Companies spend months planning ahead for this one day, and it has the potential to make or break an entire year’s performance. Countless individuals have a role in making it happen.
If you love Black Friday, perhaps one of these roles is your calling.


Business Analysts / Financial Analysts / Accountants
Black Friday got its name because it is traditionally the day when retailers go from “in the red” to “in the black”—that is, they have lost money for the year up until this point, but they sell so much the day after Thanksgiving that it propels them back up into profit-land. These non-linear sales trends make it difficult for a company to predict its yearly earnings and plan for its future. That’s where analysts and accountants come in.
These guys will predict how much a company is likely to sell , as well as how much a company needs to sell to make a profit, and what quantity of each product each store needs so it won’t run out of stock prematurely. Forecasting sales is a difficult job, and it requires excellent analytical skills and problem solving ability.
This year, many companies are trying to frame themselves as being noble and pro-family-time by closing on Thanksgiving this year after a trend for several years of stores opening earlier and earlier, encroaching on turkey time with their doorbusters and markdowns. However, a friend of mine who works in finance at a popular teen apparel company explained that this was a pure business decision: while sales on Thanksgiving Thursday were good, they were mostly just replacing sales from Friday and the weekend, so that overall revenue for the weekend wasn’t any higher than if they’d closed Thursday, especially factoring in wages and overtime.  Somewhere, a smart analyst looked at the all the sales data from the last few years and came to the decision that it wasn’t worth it, which allowed thousands of retail employees, as well as countless shoppers, to relax and be thankful this Thanksgiving instead of braving the hoardes of ravenous dealhunters.


Market/Customer Research
It seems like every year there’s a hot new item on black Friday—last year it was those hoverboards, before that it was remote control copters and drones, and fitbits–that every retailer is suddenly promoting like crazy on Black Friday.
In order for Black Friday to happen, people need to want something. It’s market research and consumer research personnel’s job to figure out what people want, or better yet, what people could be made to want with the right advertising, and how much they’re willing to pay for it. The prices for that TV at Best Buy or the power drill at Sears are not random—ever notice how different stores will have very similar prices on their biggest discount items? Someone spent weeks researching what price point would cause people to get up from their food-coma in the middle of the night and wait in line to shop. The stores’ hope is that you’ll then buy other things once you’re there. And you can bet that someone else spent weeks researching the ideal price point of everything else you encounter once you’re in the store, and a third person spent weeks on the perfect way to lay out the store to maximize your impulse-spending.


As I said before, many companies live and die by Black Friday. Often the first 10.5 months are pretty much irrelevant in the determination of whether it will be a good year or not, and it all comes down to how a retailer does on Black Friday and the rest of the Christmas shopping season. This puts incredible pressure on the marketing team to entice people into the store.
Last year, Americans spent $50 billion on Black Friday. It’s the marketing team’s job to make sure that people are spending as much of that money as possible at their store. This means creating newspaper flyers, TV ads, internet banners, billboards that are memorable and distinctive enough to stick out to the viewer among all the noise.


Public Relations
Public Relations workers may have one of the least visible roles to do with Black Friday. But you can bet they’re still revved up and ready to go. Every year there are news stories about shopping incidents or confrontations, about things that happen while people are at line, or about recalls on popular kids toys. PR professionals’ jobs are to keep up a company’s reputation and to mitigate any negative press.
PR people for very large companies could also be in charge of crafting the story around the sales numbers once those are released later, .


IT / Systems Administrators
While we think of Black Friday as a day of physical, in-store shopping, online shopping is also incredibly popular all weekend (culminating in “Cyber Monday”–there has to be a name for everything). The spike in online traffic, as well as unique promotions or new-release products, can be potentially problematic for websites, and the IT team must stay on top of any issues or problems. Having an online store go down this weekend would be disastrous for a company’s bottom line.


Process / Supply Chain
Some stores will sell more in one day on Black Friday than they have in the several months beforehand. This is a logistical nightmare for keeping items in stock and on the shelves. Many stores don’t have unlimited storage space, so inventory must arrive at the store no sooner than a day or two before Black Friday. The right stores need to receive the right amount of product, and there’s no room for error, because if it shows up late or something is wrong, they will have missed the shopping rush. Process and supply chain workers, stock managers, warehouse managers, and shipping/receiving people manage these logistics.


Regional & Store Managers
On such a big shopping day, stores must be staffed appropriately, and workers must be coached extensively beforehand on how to deal with the large and potentially unruly crowds. Often special procedures must be implemented just for that day to keep it civil (and to keep shoppers safe). There are extra barricades, additional security, and different checkout procedures. All of this must be planned out and coordinated ahead of time, and requires great leadership to make sure everything goes smoothly.


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This entry has 1 replies

  1. Tracy says:

    Very true! Makes a change to see soemone spell it out like that. 🙂