Twenty-one years of Black Fridays has given Lowe’s employee Chad Thomas a unique perspective of the changing holiday crowds. (Photo by Jade Crooks)

Gone are the days of camping outside Best Buy and 4 a.m. fist fights over the latest flatscreen.

Black Friday looked different this year. Seasoned retail employees say the once coveted commercial craze has changed — for better and for worse.

Chad Thomas, an employee at the Harbison Lowe’s Home Improvement store, hasn’t missed a Black Friday in 21 years.

“It used to be a fun, fast-paced holiday, but it’s just not like that anymore,” Thomas said. “Time stood still from probably 6 a.m. until 10 a.m.”

Thomas said he saw Lowe’s transition away from “doorbuster” sales that were exclusive to the morning after Thanksgiving. A doorbuster is a limited-time sale offered early in a business’s opening hours to attract large numbers of shoppers, according to Investopedia.

“Instead of Black Friday, they’re doing ‘Black November,’” Thomas said. “They’re stretching the sale over the whole course of the month.”

Thomas still came into work at 3 a.m. this Black Friday, though. He had to pull internet orders for online customers.

Online orders continued through the weekend into Cyber Monday.

Just down the road, employees at Harbison’s Best Buy had a similar experience.

“At first, it was kind of constantly busy with a line stretching all the way around the store at points,” said Julien Tirado, a store associate. “But it kind of went in waves.” 

Tirado’s coworker, Tony Naranjo, compared this year’s Black Friday to years past. He said the store was less busy than he was used to.

“I think it all changed because of COVID,” Naranjo said. “There were not a lot of people until like 11 a.m. or 1 p.m.”

Nadia McLemore worked retail on Black Friday from age 16 to 24. She spent the holiday behind the perfume counter at Dillard’s located in Columbiana Centre, where she said special deals just didn’t happen this year.

“Dillard’s doesn’t usually have any sales anymore, because I think of the economy right now,” McLemore said. 

The lack of deals didn’t stop people from coming into the store, though. McLemore said she thinks people still visited Dillard’s for the tradition of Black Friday. 

On the bright side for retail employees, McLemore said the holiday was “more organized” this year compared to what she experienced at past jobs.

“Back then I felt like it was just crazy,” she said. “It was just stampedes and everything. But you notice, it’s calm now.”

An employee at Columbiana’s American Eagle outlet, Sydney Benton, said her managers implemented new strategies to make this her most organized Black Friday experience yet.

Employees were stationed throughout the store to accommodate what crowds did appear.

“Before people even got to the register, our line busser would roughly fold (a garment) with the tag out, de-sensor it, and stack it up and give it back to the customer,” Benton said. “At the register, all the employee had to do was scan it and throw it in a bag.”

Most retail employees said they worked more than 10-hour shifts Friday. Tirado and Thomas both mentioned overtime pay as a perk of the holiday.

Not all retailers asked their employees to work on Black Friday, though.

Columbia’s REI Co-op has chosen to remain closed on Black Friday since 2015. REI calls it “Opt Outside,” an initiative that gives its employees a paid day off to spend outdoors or with their families for the holidays.

REI announced “Opt Outside” as a permanent employee benefit starting this year, according to a press release.

Game consoles and electric scooters are stacked beside the entrance of Best Buy in Harbison. (Photo by Leah DeFreitas)

Employees at both American Eagle Outfitters and Dillard’s at Columbiana Centre said this year’s Black Friday was more organized than ones they’ve worked in the past. (Photo by Jade Crooks)

Though REI Co-op is open on Cyber Monday, the chain has kept its doors closed on Black Friday since 2015. (Photo by Leah DeFreitas)


Jade Crooks

Jade Crooks

Crooks is a senior journalism major with a minor in business administration at the University of South Carolina. As assistant copy desk chief for the student-run Daily Gamecock, she edits stories, newsletters and tweets for an audience of more than 48,000 people. This past summer, Crooks learned multimedia skills covering Spain’s soccer culture in Barcelona.


Leah DeFreitas

Leah DeFreitas

DeFreitas is a senior journalism student at the University of South Carolina from the D.C. area. She recently produced a podcast following a biker gang boss-turned FBI informant. With law school around the corner, she gravitates toward investigation, crime and controversy. A Brazilian vegan Jew and foodie at heart, DeFreitas spends her free time recreating cultural recipes from her travels.