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20 Real Holiday Shopping Horror Stories So Bad You'll Want to Cover Your Eyes

You might want to try online shopping this year.

The holidays are supposed to be a carefree and blissful time of year, full of love and selfless giving. That's the theory, anyway. The reality can sometimes be a bit more intense. From "Black Friday," the discount-heavy sales melee just after Thanksgiving, right up until the final countdown to Christmas Eve, it's an anything-goes war zone in stores and malls across the country.

How bad does it get? As one Reddit user with experience working retail over the holidays memorably summed it up: "Let's just say if I hear Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' it triggers feelings of PTSD."

Here are 20 tales of holiday shopping gone wrong, filled with so much jaw-dropping horror and slapstick carnage you'll hope that nothing you're reading is real. Oh, it's all real, friends. Happy holidays, and for goodness sake, be safe out there! 

The time pepper spray got involved.


While trying to beat out other customers for a discounted video-game console, one woman shopping at a California Walmart did what any sane person would do. She pepper sprayed the fools who got in her way. Wait—what?!

More than ten people went down clutching their faces and gasping for air, and one witness told reporters later, "I don't know if she felt threatened or she felt she had to do that to get what she wanted." Though the witness managed to get away with only a mildly irritated throat, he said he saw others around him who "got it really bad. Some woman was crying 'my eyes, my eyes!'" Oy, that's hardly holiday spirit. 

The time someone broke the glass.

Electronics Section Walmart Secrets

A stunned former store employee recalls a customer who "thought that it was a good idea to break the glass on the game display case to get to the games rather than asking for me to unlock them."

When he finally got to her and realized she was cradling a bloody elbow and forearm, she didn't apologize for being impetuous and putting her personal safety at risk. No, instead she yelled at the poor guy for not using tempered glass in their store displays. "Sorry lady," the employee recalls telling her, "I didn't realize that someone would be using their arm as a battering ram on my cabinets."

The time there was a fake line.

shopping horror stories

Waiting in lines is a reality of holiday shopping. But hopefully, you won't be stuck in one for hours before somebody realizes you're not actually queued toward, well, anything.

That's what happened to one confused customer, who stood in front of what he thought was a cash register but was actually just an unused computer. Other customers assumed he knew what he was doing and within 15 minutes the line began to "snake all around the department," according to a former employee of the store.

It just got more chaotic from there. "When the doofus who started this whole fiasco went to find the right line, he found the end of the line he had started," the ex-employee recalled. "Then the guy behind him heard that there wasn't a register so he followed the first guy. Then the next customer followed the second and so on."

This continued, with hundreds of people walking around in circles to the same line, until one of them finally figured it out, and the store manager had to calm down the angry crowd to prevent a riot. For the record, no, this wasn't a Monty Python sketch. 


The time grandmothers brawled.

Furby 1990s Facts

Not even grandmothers are immune to the chaos that so frequently accompanies holiday shopping. One store employee recalls three grandmothers getting into a fist-fight over a single Furby toy for their respective grandchildren. For those too young to remember, a Furby is an electronic "pet" that was, for a brief period, the most sought-after holiday gift in the world.

To get their hands on one, the women got into a "full-on brawl, rolling around on the floor, kicking and punching." It was "the most screwed up thing I've ever seen," says the employee.  

The time it became a vomitous situation.

shopping horror stories

Holiday shopping can cause even the most well-intentioned parents to make some truly terrible decisions.

Take the dad who thought it'd be a good idea, after a long day of shopping with his young daughter, to place her on his shoulders and spin her really fast for way longer than necessary.

As one store employee observed, the daughter "said she didn't feel well and told him to stop." He, of course, ignored her, and she ended up throwing up with the intensity and volume of the girl in The Exorcist. "It caused a chain reaction," the employee reports, "and in total, 12 people threw up all over the store. WORST. SMELL. EVER."

The time a pantless man fought for Best Buy vouchers.

Best Buy exterior

It's not unusual for people to get into physical skirmishes with strangers while holiday shopping. What is unusual are the fights when one of them decides to take off their pants for no apparent reason. Or at least that's the memory of a mall restaurant employee, who says it was weird enough seeing two grown men wrestling on the floor over some Best Buy vouchers, but it was especially unsettling to see one of them wearing "nothing but his underwear." A restaurant staffer pulled out a fire extinguisher and sprayed down the brawlers as Christmas carols played in the background. Oh, and if you're thinking about hitting up the big box store, make sure you know the 50 Best Buys to Buy at Best Buy. 

The time people waited 14 hours for cheap towels.

If you're going to stand outside a store for half a day to buy some Christmas gifts, you'd hope the gifts would be worth it. Not so much for one very determined couple, who waited outside a Target for around 14 hours, according to a former employee, to get first dibs on the store's holiday deals.

But once inside, the very patient couple loaded their shopping cart with nothing but $2 towels. "That's it," the employee remembers. "Just towels." When the store closed later that day, the employee noticed that "we still had shelves full of these towels, along with tons more in the stockroom."

The time a lingerie customer nearly pulled a firearm.

shopping horror stories

Lines are a recurring motif in holiday shopping horror stories. But in this one, they're taken to a new level, when a mother waiting in a 50 person line decides that enough is enough and pushes her way directly to the front. As a former staffer remembers, "Our security guard asked her multiple times to step to the back of the line or leave. She proceeded to ream him with every curse word in the book, and ended by threatening him with a gun she had in her bag."

Because nothing says "I'm in a hurry to buy these Christmas panties" like brandishing a firearm to make your point.

The time someone stole frozen seafood by stuffing it down their pants

shopping horror stories

Of all the things to steal by stuffing them down your pants, you'd think frozen seafood would be at the bottom of the list. But that's apparently what happened at a Sam's Club during the holiday rush, when a woman was discovered, as a former employee shared, "stuffing the inside of her pants with frozen lobster tail. She would unpackage them and throw the trash in a stack of tires that were on display." We give her points for creativity, but we're very, very grateful that we weren't on the guest list for her holiday seafood dinner.

The time someone stole a bicycle by riding it out of the store.

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It's so simple it's brilliant. If you're going to steal a Christmas gift for your kid, it might as well be something with wheels.

That's what happened in a Walmart during the height of the holiday shopping season, when an employee witnessed a fist fight break out over a bicycle.

"There was some blood," the former staffer remembers. "Eventually one guy got ahold of it and managed to get away from the crowd. He rode the bike out of the store to flee his pursuers (without paying)."

The time a woman risked her life for an iPod.

ipod nano discontinued products

We can't emphasize this point enough: Stuff is just stuff and it isn't worth putting your personal safety at risk. An elderly woman learned this the hard way when she burst into a store during a holiday shopping sale—"running" with her walker, according to an employee at the time—and dove—yes dove, like an Olympic swimmer leaping into a pool—toward a display of MP3 players.

She apparently "hit the ground, hard, and people start to flood the store. A few of them step on her." The old woman started clutching her chest and paramedics rushed in to try and save her. But she was more concerned with whether she'd lose her purchases. "During this entire endeavor," the employee notes, "she's holding three MP3 Players and absolutely refuses to let them go."

The time adults fought kids for Beanie Babies.

beanie babie toy, things only 90s kids remember
Shutterstock/Linda Bestwick

We expect a little holiday hysteria from adults, who can let the stress of the season get the better of them. But kids should be more innocent, eager to be on Santa's nice list. And for the most part, they are—unless someone tries to touch their Beanie Babies.

One former kid remembers a holiday shopping spree in his youth, in which both kids and adults lunged at a store's table display of beanies. "People were vultures after these things," he remembers. "I was about nine and an old lady grabbed a cat out of my hand. I stomped on her foot and stole it back." Did he feel a little bit weird about resorting to violence over something as petty as a toy? Nope. "I was so proud," he says.

The time customers ignored an armed man and stayed in line.

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dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock

It was an hour before a mall was scheduled to close on Christmas Eve and violence erupted at a kid's clothing store between two angry customers, one of whom pulled out a gun. The police were called and the mall's stores were put on lockdown, but many of the customers weren't afraid for their lives, they were just "angry they were unable to finish their shopping," recalls one former mall employee. As he tried to get customers to lie on the floor and cover their heads, he says, "one woman yelled at me to finish her transaction."

The time an employee announced a sale in a "zombie"-packed store.

shopping horror stories

If you're going to announce a big price slash for a hot gift item, you better make sure you actually have it in stock. A former employee at an electronics store remembers a terrifying weekend in which his district manager made this deadly mistake, making a store-wide announcement that digital camcorders had just been marked down from $199 to $49.

"I knew the model and we did have it in inventory," the employee recalls. "The problem was, we only had four." They were soon surrounded on all sides by "fast-moving zombie horde of shoppers" and the district manager, realizing her mistake, made a hasty retreat. "I have never been in more fear for my life," he remembers.

The time a woman prayed for a lightning strike so she could cut in line.

shopping horror stories

When the line of holiday shoppers at a store's checkout is in the triple digits, you're bound to get at least a few people who think they're important enough to go directly to the front.

This was the case with a woman with "two full carts" of toys, according to a former employee. When the employee politely explained to her that she had to wait in line like everybody else, the woman "got down on her knees and started praying—LOUDLY—that Jesus strike me down with righteous lightning for blocking the path of a Christian soldier," the employee remembers. "After 15 minutes of me not being struck down, she left the store."

The time someone brought a baseball bat to a toy store.

shopping horror stories

Holiday shopping can get emotional, especially when supplies are limited and everybody thinks they're the most deserving. When two kids at a Toys"R"Us started trading punches over a Nintendo video game, it was just a matter of time before their parents got involved.

As a former staffer remembers, employees immediately intervened when the parents started to get physical, especially when they realized that one of the parents "had a bat in his cart." Before they could stop the altercation, the bat made contact with the other parent, sending him into a display cabinet, "shattering the glass and cutting him up really good."

Perhaps just realizing he'd committed an assault, the bat-wielding parent made a run for the exit and was tackled by a police officer. "He resisted and got a serious beatdown in the middle of the store," the staffer remembers.

The time an elderly woman fought a man in a wheelchair.

Paralyzed man in a wheelchair

One shopper remembers witnessing both parties struggle to gain possession of an ice-cream maker. When the man in the wheelchair lost the tug-of-war, he found a security guard to complain to. "The woman flat-out denied it, saying the man was using his handicap to embarrass her," the holiday shopper recalls. "I lost a little faith in humanity at that moment." 

The time a man turned a profit selling coffee to caffeine-famished shoppers.

shopping horror stories

Standing in line during the holiday shopping season can be exhausting. That's why one guy decided to bring a coffee with him before braving the crowd. As he walked past the incredibly long line outside a Best Buy, a weary man toward the front "offered me $20 for my half drank, lukewarm coffee," he remembers.

He made the sale and then went back to the coffee shop to pick up four more coffees, which he sold for $10 a piece to "the most desperate people in line." There's a sucker born every minute, and apparently they'll pay anything for a cup of caffeine.

The time a store played a never-ending Christmas song.

shopping horror stories

If you think you get bored of Christmas songs, you have nothing on most store employees, who have to endure an endless loop of excruciating holiday tunes day after day. One Reddit user claimed that while working at a mall bookstore, he realized that the store's stereo was stuck on the same holiday song, playing it over and over and over again.

As the sole employee at the store—and with so many customers demanding his attention—he couldn't break away to change it. "It was at least an hour before I was able to get away from the counter," he remembers. "That was the day I was forced to listen to some kind of generic 'A Very Jazzy Jingle Bells' some 30 times back to back." 

The time two shoppers fought over a… calculator.

Budgeting money

It's not the price tag on a gift that matters but the thought that went into it. At least that's the conventional wisdom. But what if the thought involved a fight between grannies? That's what happened at a RadioShack during a holiday sale, when a $10 calculator was marked down to $5.

A former employee witnessed two sweet, elderly women realize that only one calculator was left, so they both charged for it in "a geriatric version of roller derby without the skates," the employee recalls.

Was it worth it? Probably not. The employee says he always imagined "some little kid opening presents on Christmas morning and getting this stupid $5 calculator, not really wanting it and having no clue about the story behind it, as his grandma, sipping her tea, looks on with a triumphant gleam in her eye." 

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