Why Black Friday is One of the Biggest Shopping Days of the Year

Is Black Friday the biggest shopping day of the year? Retailers and the media might lead you to believe so but that may not be the case, at least according to one Wall Street Journal blog. Whether it is or isn’t, Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days and by the time you read this it will be just days away.
Yes, Friday November 27th, a.k.a “Black Friday,” will be the unofficial start of the Christmas season as throngs of people make their way to malls all around the country trying to get the best deals possible on holiday gifts.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say people will act like crazed fans at a football game or soccer match. It’s not uncommon to hear of people coming to blows over items, pushing each other out of the way to get to toys, trampling one another and in one very unfortunate case a man actually died as a result of the shopping frenzy. That’s right, last year a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as shoppers pushed their way into the store. So much for the season of giving and the spirit of joy!

What causes seemingly normal people will do some very abnormal things in hopes of getting the right gift or best deal? Why would someone stand in line for hours waiting for a store to open when they could visit that same store almost any day of the week? And why to people get up hours earlier than they normally would on their day off?

I contend the madness is because of scarcity, the psychological principle that tells us people value things more when they appear to be less available. This almost automatic response can be triggered by time constraints and competition for a limited number of items.

Black Friday taps into scarcity using the time constraint because it’s one day a year. Miss it and you might have missed the best deals of the season. But then again, you might not have missed out because sales only seem to better as Christmas approaches and retailers look to unload merchandise. Nonetheless, over the years the lure of Black Friday has increased immensely and retailers have taken advantage of the popularity of Black Friday by opening earlier and earlier each year. This year some stores will open at 12:00 AM, the moment the clock strikes midnight because Thanksgiving will be over and it will officially be Friday.

Competition isn’t limited to the playing field or court. No, when it comes to shopping competition is alive and well, fed into by retailers. Here’s how the competition part works – no longer is it good enough to just get to a store because if you are not there when the store opens they might run out of the thing you want. Limited availability is different than limited time so while you might have all day Friday to shop, certain items, those marked “While Supplies Last” or “Limited Availability,” might be gone by the time you arrive at 5 AM or 6 AM. Can’t let that happen now, can we?

It’s amazing how people respond because little Jimmy probably doesn’t remember that great toy you got him three years ago, the one you headed to the mall at 4 AM to buy. And sweet Sally probably can’t tell you which American Girl doll you got her when she was eight years old but it’s a good thing you stood in line for several hours to pay for it.

Here’s another eye opener. People will say, “But I saved $200!” Saving money is great but many of those same people would not drive across town to save $200 on a car because a $200 savings on a $20,000 car by comparison isn’t worth the extra time and effort. So
they spend four hours negotiating a car deal, could go across town and maybe spend another four hours to save $200, but they don’t. Sure, it’s an eight hour investment but many of those same people will spend more than 12 hours at the mall just to save $200. It doesn’t make much sense when you lay it out like that but then again, people are Predictably Irrational as Dan Ariely wrote about in his book by the same title. By the way, the real value of the car savings would be closer to $260 because of the interest over the life of a 5%, five-year loan.

So where am I going with all of this? I’m not going to tell you not to shop. For some people Black Friday shopping has become as much a holiday tradition as Thanksgiving, getting a Christmas tree and listening to holiday music. I’d only challenge you to consider if it’s really worth the hassle – the lost sleep, extra time as the mall, traffic, fighting for a parking space, the disappointment when someone bought the last item you wanted, etc. I could go on and on but you get the point. Just think for a moment, “Would I normally respond this way? Do I want to respond this way?” Then decide what you want to do next.

If you know you’re going to give into the madness then I’ll try to save you a little bit of time by giving you the Black Friday web site so you can get a sneak peak at some of the deals that will be out there. Before all the craziness starts I’ll end with this – I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving and a safe time no matter what you decide to do.

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

1 reply
  1. Bill Bitterli
    Bill Bitterli says:

    Brian –

    Two thoughts:

    One, I think there is a family/social dynamic at work here, as well as tradition and the “feel” of being frugal. When families get together for Thanksgiving, it may be the first time all year, or at least since the summer, and is the precursor to the Christmas gathering. We force ourselves to “take one holiday at a time,” but Christmas is much more daunting than Thanksgiving, so there is an anxiousness to get started as soon as Thanksgiving is over. We have talked about gift ideas over pie, and for the most part, the families remain in town through Friday. So, what to do Friday morning? My vote is to exercise the turkey off, but most of the family hits the stores. Because it’s a huge shopping day and probably a half day of travel for many, store opening time becomes a key consideration, and stores push it earlier to accommodate the crowd. In short, I think it’s less about getting there early to save money than getting there early with your turkey-engorged relatives before they have to leave.

    Two, this tradition developed in the days before internet shopping was common, and may still be driven by my parent’s generation who are less likely to go online. I suspect the holiday tradition will increasingly include gathering around a cracklin’ high speed modem and telling everyone how much money you saved on gas. Your Black Friday site is being joined daily by sites like CHEAPERUNIVERSE.COM which crawl for sales wherever they may be.

    Have a great holiday.



Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.