Minutes after the Best Buy store opened, a swarm of shoppers surrounded Layla Antillon in the camera department. As soon as she greeted the first customer, another appeared and impatiently peppered her with questions about gifts for his son.
Then two more shoppers arrived at her side, and the slightly frazzled 22-year-old took a step back.
“Freeze frame!” supervisor Troy Wilson yelled to the Best Buy sales associates watching the scene unfold. “Notice how she opened her body up to talk to multiple customers? This is the art of group selling.”
In fact, it was part of a staged exercise to help Best Buy associates prepare for the crush of customers who will crowd into the Watertown store on the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday is a crazy day for shoppers, but it can also be hectic and stressful for store workers.
Best Buy goes out of its way coaching employees to stay cool and make the most of a crucial retail business day. All 120 employees of the Watertown store arrived at work just after dawn five days ago for a Black Friday simulation, an exercise that was repeated at every US Best Buy store last weekend.
Twice, employees lined up outside of the store, despite the chilly morning air, instructed to run to one area of the store — as hundreds of shoppers will when the doors open for real on Friday at 1 a.m. Workers from the games and television sections posed as pesky shoppers in the camera department.
“The purpose of the day is to give people a sense of what it feels like to see 100 people rushing at them,” said John Garrasi, general manager of the store. “But there’s no way to truly simulate the traffic we have in the store on that day.”
The Thanksgiving weekend brings four times as many customers as the state’s tax-free shopping weekend in August, the store’s second-best sales period of the year. Garrasi said customers typically begin lining up outside on Wednesday morning to snag Friday’s doorbuster deals.
“It’s a day where you’re going to be a little out of your comfort zone,” Wilson said to his “lifestyle” team, which sells cameras, televisions, and game systems. “You’re going to have 10, 15, or 20 customers at a time.”
In an effort to sell more items quickly, the store’s entire inventory will be on the floor Friday. Doorbuster deals, such as a $100 discount on an Apple iPad 2 with Wi-Fi or $500 off an LG 55-inch LED HDTV, are going to be centered in one section at the front of the store.
Workers are told to push customers toward bundled items — a strategy to increase sales and get customers all the parts necessary to operate a new camera or an Xbox One system and out the door as fast as possible.
Employees in the games section practiced a skill described as “transfer of ownership,” which means placing products in consumers’ hands and thereby increasing the likelihood they will buy them.
Some employees appeared ready and eager for “the day,” as Wilson described it. Others felt a little more trepidation.
“It’s a pretty crazy day,” Antillon said. “The hardest part is trying to attend to everyone. They have a time limit in every store, and they don’t like waiting.”
Best Buy managers have promised to stock up on the essential employee survival tools for the day: Red Bull and plenty of food.
Like a football team huddling to pump each other up before taking the field, Best Buy workers will begin to rally about 20 minutes ahead of the store’s opening. Wilson said he and a few others will stand in the middle of the pack of workers and lead cheers and screams. They’ll chant “596,” the Watertown Best Buy’s store number.
“At the end, we’re ready to rumble,” he said.