Black Friday: Horror Stories From the Trenches

By Kate B.
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Photo Courtesy: NBCUniversal/IMDb

Getting that perfect gift can drive people to do rash things. And the struggle to nab that gift at a low, low price can make people go even more berserk. That’s why Black Friday — with its limited-time deals and midnight openings — remains the perfect storm.

However, the need to get the latest and greatest gadgets has gone way too far, resulting in terrible behavior toward customer service folks, stampedes that rival The Lion King (1994) and, in some cases, violence. Take a look at some of the wildest stories from the Black Friday trenches.

Customer Stuffs Lobster Down Their Pants

Sam’s Club and Costco might not seem like obvious Black Friday "go tos," but if you can get wholesale items at even deeper discounts — why not? Reddit user Nickdubs recalls working at Sam’s Club during Black Friday, and, well, things got weird.

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Photo Courtesy: @9to5toys/Twitter

One customer was trying to have her cake and eat it too. And by cake, we mean lobster. Instead of grabbing lobster tails at a low price, she decided to shoplift the crustaceans. Nickdubs posted that they caught the woman stuffing lobster tails in her pants and hiding the packaging in a stack of nearby tires.

Off-Duty Police Officer Gets Arrested

In Kinston, North Carolina, police officer Gordon Jackson found himself off duty on Black Friday in 2011. Instead of enjoying his day off, he ended up getting arrested — a real "do as I say not as I do" situation.

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Photo Courtesy: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Videos taken of the incident show folks covering their faces after Officer Jackson used pepper spray to ward off his fellow shoppers. The crowd was chaotic, but Jackson escalated the situation and was charged with disorderly conduct accordingly. NBC News reported that the police department claims Jackson just sprayed a "single puff" that didn’t get in anyone’s eyes.

A Power Outage Strikes a Store During the Shopping Frenzy

Circuit City, RadioShack, Tweeter. All of these electronics stores have one thing in common: they’ve permanently gone dark. A few years ago, another popular electronics store also had some trouble keeping the lights on — though it was a temporary blackout situation, not bankruptcy.

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Photo Courtesy: Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images

Reddit user zahngol recalls picking up a shift on a chaotic Black Friday, only for the store to lose power for about an hour and a half. Of course, that meant all those red-eyed shoppers couldn’t purchase anything and were forced to sit and wait in the darkened store until the power was restored.

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Credit Card Systems Go Down

All retail employees have their fair share of nightmarish stories from Black Friday. Sometimes the horror stories are about rude customers with unrealistic expectations, and other times the true terror comes in the form of long hours. One year, however, the day turned stressful thanks to some technical issues.

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Photo Courtesy: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Reddit user Itorres89 recalled that the store they worked at suffered a huge issue: The credit card system went down. To make matters worse, it was just after the doors opened. Luckily for shoppers, the employees found a painful solution — manually calling in every transaction.

Florida Grandma “Stepped on Again and Again”

Sure, you’ve heard of "Florida Man," but this next Black Friday shopper makes a great case for a new meme: Florida Grandmother. Her origin story dates back to Black Friday 2005 and involves BrandsMart and a disturbing mob mentality.

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Photo Courtesy: Viktor Drachev/TASS/Getty Images

The unnamed 73-year-old woman recalls waiting in line outside the retail chain for hours on end. Once the doors opened, the real frenzy began and the merciless crowd surged forward. Florida Grandma was knocked down in the scuffle and stepped on again and again. Her daughter watched, helpless.

Customers Arrived a Little Too Early

In 2008, a Walmart shopper was tragically killed during a stampede to get inside the store at opening. To avoid lines and door rushing, a Walmart in Upland, California, remained open all night the following year. However, this tactic led to some unforeseen problems.

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Photo Courtesy: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Deal-hungry shoppers started opening shrink-wrapped items that were clearly marked for sale starting at five in the morning. Employees called the police to remove shoppers from the store so that they could prep for the 5 a.m. sale. Some customers tried to sneak in through the back entrance, while others chanted "let me in."

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A Walmart Crowd Knocks Down the Doors & Stampedes Inside

If you’ve ever had a frustrating Black Friday experience — disappointment, long lines, no sleep, elbowing through crowds — you should consider yourself lucky. Sadly, Black Friday turned fatal at a Long Island Walmart in 2008. Over 2,000 eager shoppers forced open the doors five minutes before the official early opening.

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Photo Courtesy: @HConomics/Twitter

While the doors fell off their hinges, the crowd surged forward. Allegedly, employees made a human chain to slow down the rush, but, in the process, a 34-year-old employee was trampled. Even when police and paramedics arrived at the fatal scene to close the store, shoppers kept pushing past.

Eager Shoppers Wait in Line for…Towels

Although the Black Friday frenzy is easy to mock, there’s no denying that a good deal is a good deal. And sometimes that one item you really, really need — or, more likely, really, really want — is worth the chaos, endless queues and coffee-less morning.

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Photo Courtesy: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

But Redditor Lineman72T hit the roof when he witnessed a couple spend 14 hours in line — that’s right, over half a day! — just to scoop up a shopping cart full of towels. Sure, the bath towels were $2 a pop, but you have to draw the line somewhere, right? Right.

Angry Customer Calls 911, Another Sues

Unfortunately, retail employees who work Black Friday witness a lot of terrible behavior. Redditor eddiemarsattacks remembers that a shopper called 911 because Best Buy couldn’t price match the product she wanted. When the police showed up, they arrested her for abusing the emergency line.

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Photo Courtesy: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Another anonymous Redditor recalls a shopper turning up on Black Friday with the intent to sue an unnamed retail store. The shopper spilled food all over the floor and purposely slipped. In the end, the shopper got a concussion, and, luckily for the store, there was video evidence of the shopper’s ridiculous ploy.

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A Television Falls on a Shopper

If you thought Black Friday horror stories were contained to the U.S., think again. Nowhere is safe. In 2014, police in Greater Manchester were called to several Tesco shops to help control crowds because the UK-based supermarkets lacked the necessary security to handle the swell of people.

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Photo Courtesy: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Despite arrests, the crowd continued to be rowdy and disregard instructions doled out by Tesco employees and the police. One shopper broke their wrist in the throng of deal-hungry customers, while another suffered minor injuries when a television fell on them.

Shopping Turns Violent at a San Leandro Walmart

It’s well known that Black Friday shoppers start their trek to shops earlier and earlier each year — or, at least, that’s how it seems. And these pre-dawn start times illustrate just how desperate folks are to claim a deal.

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Photo Courtesy: James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

A little before two in the morning in San Leandro, shoppers got into a brawl in the parking lot of a Walmart. As they left the store, customers were confronted by several suspects who wanted the just-purchased items. When the shoppers refused, one of the suspects fired a gun. The gunshot victim was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Furby Purchase Ends in a Fistfight

Every holiday season has an "it" toy that hits shelves — and then quickly vanishes as eager shoppers snatch it up. In 1998 and 1999, that must-have toy was the Furby, a little electronic hamster-owl-looking robot that seemingly learned things over time.

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Photo Courtesy: Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

In the first year of the craze, 1.8 million Furbies were sold. Needless to say, getting a Furby that season was a struggle. Redditor Monklyn recalls watching "three grandmothers [get] into a literal fistfight over the last Furby." It took several people to stop the brawl, which Monklyn called "the most screwed up thing I’ve ever seen."

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Oblivious Shopper Accidentally Snags Deals

Every holiday season, certain unavoidable things crop up in the news — like the "Baby, It’s Cold Outside" discourse or the "Is Die Hard (1988) a Christmas movie?" debate. And earlier and earlier each fall, we also become painfully aware of holiday sales and decor.

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Photo Courtesy: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

In a world inundated by advertisements, it would be pretty shocking to avoid any mention of Black Friday. But according to Reddit user The Dingman, a customer who came into RadioShack (RIP) on Black Friday dodged it all. While purchasing batteries she asked employees if the mall was always so busy.

A Young Child Is Trampled by Crowds

In 2013, Black Friday shoppers at a New Boston Walmart took the deal craze to a whole new level when they disregarded the safety of a young girl. The 11-year-old child became another victim of the nightmare shopping day when stampeding customers trampled her.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter Foley/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Walmart employees reported the incident to the police at 7:56 p.m., and within five minutes, cops showed up on the scene to help. The child’s injuries were severe enough that she was brought to the hospital, but, fortunately, she was released later that day.

Exhausted Retail Employee Gets in an Accident

After working an undoubtedly long and tiring day in 2011, a retail employee left for the evening. But her Black Friday horrors didn’t end when she clocked out. Instead, she ended up going from her night shift at Target into a 20-foot-deep canal.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Unable to swim, she frantically called the cops on her cell. By the time the Palm Beach County police arrived, the woman and her car were starting to sink. After rescuers pulled her to safety from the canal, the woman admitted that she lost control of her car due to exhaustion.

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Shoppers Brawl Over Beanie Babies

People’s online publication ran an article in 2018 that collected Black Friday horror stories from industry insiders. While all of the horror stories are notable, an anecdote about Beanie Babies really stood out.

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Photo Courtesy: @steve_venner/Twitter

One insider recalled being in a store on Black Friday during the late ‘90s — the height of the Beanie Baby craze. Reportedly, employees tossed Beanie Babies onto a table and people dove on the toys like vultures. The source says "an old lady grabbed a cat out of my hand. I stomped on her foot and stole it back. I was so proud."

A Child Has an Accident at the Register

Sometimes parents have no choice but to bring their kids along for the ride. Ashton David relayed their story on Facebook — and later to Buzzfeed — regarding a run-in they had with a child on Black Friday.

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Photo Courtesy: John Moore/Getty Images

David recalled a woman and her child coming up to the register, and when the child complained about needing the bathroom, the mother told them to wait. But the kid just couldn’t hold it any longer. David said the mother didn’t apologize for her child’s accident. Instead, she grabbed her bags and said "[you] should clean that up" before leaving.

Pepper Spray Makes for “Competitive Shopping”

By its very nature, Black Friday is extreme. But in 2011 a shopper at the Walmart in Porter Ranch, California, took the event way too far. In fact, things were taken so far that Walmart employees had to call in the Los Angeles Police Department for backup.

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Photo Courtesy: NBC Universal/IMDb

To beat the crowd, an anonymous shopper attacked over 20 customers with pepper spray. The few-hundred folks in the crowd were trying to snatch up the popular Nintendo Wii and, while pushing and shoving was expected, a faceful of pepper spray was a real surprise. The LAPD called this "competitive shopping."

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A Shopper Gets Too Righteous About Her Purchases

Emmay Friedenson, an employee at a popular retail chain, posted about a truly frustrating Black Friday experience. During the shopping spree, the checkout line became about 200 people deep. One woman with two carts in tow tried to cut the line.

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Photo Courtesy: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

When Friedenson stopped the shopper, the customer said cutting was okay because the toys were for kids at her church. Then the shopper fell to her knees and prayed — loudly. Friedenson recalls, "[She prayed] that Jesus [would] strike me down with righteous lightning for blocking the path of a Christian soldier." After Friedenson wasn’t struck down, the customer left.

Two Shoppers Suffer Fatal Wounds in Palm Desert

When you picture Palm Springs, you probably see palm trees, poolside daiquiris and mid-century modern restaurants. It might seem like the closest things get to "wild" is Coachella-season behavior. Well, think again. In 2008, Black Friday turned fatal in nearby Palm Desert.

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Photo Courtesy: @LitAfghan/Twitter

At the now-defunct Toys ‘R’ Us in Palm Desert, families took cover after the sound of gunfire filled the crowded store. Two men having an argument drew their weapons. No one knows for sure why the shoppers were fighting and, tragically, both men ended up with fatal gunshot wounds.

Employee Gets Spat On at the MAC Counter

If you’ve ever walked into a Sephora or MAC, you’ve probably experienced very effusive customer service with folks offering to show you samples or dig up just the right mascara. However, there are some things customer service reps just can’t control — including long lines.

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Photo Courtesy: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS/Getty Images

Redditor meghanjlee worked for a MAC Cosmetics counter for years but could still vividly recall one particularly terrible Black Friday. The former employee wrote that a customer, fed up with the long lines that preceded their lipstick purchase, spat on meghanjlee’s coworker. "SPIT ON," the Redditor wrote. "Let that sink in."

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Shoppers Ignore Fallen Man

Laser-focused Black Friday shoppers often become quite oblivious to the world around them — sometimes to the detriment of others. This was certainly the case a few years ago at a West Virginia-based Target.

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Photo Courtesy: @ABC7/Twitter

Walter Vance, a then-61-year-old pharmacist with a heart condition, fell during the stampede-like chaos of the shopping spree. Although Vance wasn’t trampled, he was left to lie on the ground. Consumed with bargain-hunting, fellow customers didn’t stop to help him. Eventually, an employee spotted Vance and helped get him to a nearby hospital.

Employee Receives Death Threats Over a Sweater

On Black Friday, most shoppers don’t take chances, which leads to long lines and post-Thanksgiving campouts on sidewalks. Redditor des recalled a customer who started off as an extra-cautious shopper but turned into an utter nightmare.

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Photo Courtesy: @ATLSAHM/Twitter

The customer in question called the store des worked at to ask about a sweater they’d allegedly put on hold. Des explained that the store didn’t hold items on Black Friday and that the sweater wasn’t available. The would-be shopper then threatened des, saying "she wished she was in the store so she could put her hands around [des’] neck and choke [them]." Yikes.

Retail Worker Sprayed by Nightmarish Customer

Retail workers experience some of the worst threats and attacks — both verbal and physical — of the holiday season on Black Friday. Redditor rachelb4dfe9cbb5 posted about an incident between their coworker Mira and a shopper.

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Photo Courtesy: TwinPeaksUnwrapped still/YouTube

The nightmarish shopper demanded that Mira "check in back" for a green apple-scented perfume. Mira calmly explained that the scent had been discontinued and, in response, the customer grabbed the nearest bottle of body shimmer and sprayed it in Mira’s face like mace. "One of Mira’s eyelids swelled completely shut," the Redditor recalled. "She had to wear an eyepatch for a week."

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Petty Customer Goes Too Far With Video Game Trade-Ins

PSA: Black Friday is about grabbing bargains, so sometimes stores can’t accommodate all of your regular needs while customer service folks are swarmed by deal-hungry crowds. Former GameStop employee spookydelight posted about a particularly frustrating Black Friday encounter on Reddit.

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Photo Courtesy: @Polygon/Twitter

On Black Friday, spookydelight’s GameStop location wasn’t taking trade-ins. One customer ignored the long line and approached the Redditor’s register. The shopper said he had over 150 items to trade in — and, when spookydelight told him they couldn’t accommodate his request, the customer threw each item at spookydelight until the cops were called. Now, the shopper is banned from GameStops.

Victoria’s Secret Maced & Robbed

As we’ve seen, some (would-be) customers resort to aggressive and dangerous shopping tactics. Reddit user heatherb4f75e9ba5 worked at Victoria’s Secret one Black Friday and posted about an encounter with shoplifters who wanted to steal the store’s entire launch table just two hours after opening.

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Photo Courtesy: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

While the shoplifters could have just scooped up all of the new merch and run off, they took things a few steps further. To ensure no one would chase them, the shoplifters sprayed mace all over the store and employees called for an emergency evacuation. "I had burns…all over my hands," the Redditor wrote.

Pregnant Woman Gets Trampled

We’ve all heard stories of fatal stampedes, but often those panics occur in settings like riots or evacuations. However, Black Friday has strangely become associated with these dangerous charges as well — all for the sake of a discounted coffee maker or a flat-screen TV.

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Photo Courtesy: Cris Faga/NurPhoto/Getty Images

In 2005, a video taken at a retail store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, showed shoppers shoving others to the ground. One of those victims was a pregnant woman, and, after her fall, most folks kept racing by. Eventually, an employee called an ambulance to make sure she and her baby were okay.

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Customers Literally Knock Down the Doors

While working at a popular retail store, Redditor HaberDasherA experienced a terrifying door rush. A minute after midnight, their fellow employees were still setting up signs. Shoppers outside got antsy and started pushing the door and cursing.

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Photo Courtesy: DiceRoll1/Superstore Wiki/Wikimedia Commons

"The door was cheap," HaberDasherA wrote, "so even though it was locked, they were able to push it inward." However, the door never actually opened. Nonetheless, folks in the back of the crowd surged forward, crushing shoppers at the front against the door. The manager immediately opened the doors and folks spilled inside. An all-out stampede ensued.

Customer Defends Child From Black Friday Chaos

The year the Xbox 360 launched, Reddit user Ruckus55 spotted a young kid and a middle-aged woman eagerly waiting in line for a 360 bundle. The employee at the register handed the kid the last console bundle and, as the exchange happened, a grown man charged in.

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Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Said man pushed the kid, whose face collided with a nearby sales rack. "I don’t know what came over me," Ruckus55 wrote. "But I instantly swung for the dude’s head…sending him into a Keurig tower in the middle of the [aisle]." In the end, the kid got the 360.

Customers Brawl After a Stroller Is Flipped Over

Redditor sureiguess posted about a fight they saw on Black Friday while working at a Walmart. Reportedly, a scuffle broke out between two women. Over what, sureiguess wasn’t — well — sure. As they fought, one woman flipped over the other woman’s stroller with the baby still strapped inside it.

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Photo Courtesy: @GrumpysGirl2/Twitter

The wronged woman tackled the other woman to the ground. The store manager quickly rushed over to make sure the baby was alright. In the end, sureiguess gleaned that the two shoppers knew one another and decided to rekindle an argument in the middle of the Black Friday chaos. Smart.

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