The shopping day following Thanksgiving, known to retailers as “Black Friday,” serves as the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
Consummate shoppers Sandy Spear and daughter Stacy Heckert once left Spear’s Colorado home at 7 a.m. for Black Friday shopping and didn’t return home until 11 p.m. Sixteen hours. That was some shopping trip.
Known as the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — finds serious shoppers up and out before dawn to hit stores that open as early as 5 a.m. Last year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that 140 million people shopped on Black Friday weekend.
Spear, who now lives in Baldwin City, Kan., and Heckert, of Sikeston, Mo., started with Target on that marathon shopping day and then went to the mall. “Most of the time,” Spear recalls, “it was not like we were looking for anything in particular; we were just out looking.”
Running with the Herd
Atlanta-based financial psychologist Mary Gresham says there are two primary reasons for the Black Friday phenomenon: “One is that it has become a ritual.” And second, says Gresham, “is what we call the psychology of the herd. Because everyone else is up and doing it, suddenly you feel a strong desire to do it, too. Because we’re social animals, we like to run with the herd. It is very comforting, and it’s a good feeling. It’s very euphoric when you are in it.”
Spear and Heckert definitely experienced a Colorado Rocky Mountain shopping high. Asked if their long day of shopping was fun, Spear responds, “Oh God, yes. It was like an adrenaline rush. The busier it was, the more we liked it. We loved the hustle and bustle of lunch. And if we got a really great bargain, it was wonderful.”
That word — bargain — is the reason many shoppers put themselves through the Black Friday paces. Part of the allure of Black Friday is that retailers offer specials, and shoppers rise early to buy sale items that may not last through the day.
Web Sites Leak Sale Details Early
For competitive reasons, retailers try to keep their Black Friday specials a secret until the week of Thanksgiving, but several Web sites work hard to leak Black Friday deals – often called doorbusters – earlier than that.
One site, bfads.net, has been posting Black Friday advertisements for Best Buy, Circuit City, Target, and Big Lots, to name just a few. Another one, blackfriday.info, reveals, for instance, that KB Toys will be selling Barbie merchandise at 30 percent off.
Yet another site, blackfridaygotadeal.com, posts several Black Friday ads from various retailers, along with a note that OfficeMax attorneys sent the site a cease and desist order to stop posting its ads. Wal-Mart did something similar, having its lawyers send a notice to several sites, warning of criminal penalties if they posted any of Wal-Mart’s Black Friday ads early.
“Because these Web sites have not respected the copyright protection and other laws, we just reminded them of their obligation to do that,” says a Wal-Mart spokesman.
Last year, according to NRF, Black Friday weekend shoppers spent, on average, $360.15 each, up 18.9 percent from $302.81 in 2005. One-third of Black Friday shoppers reached their first shopping destination before sunrise, and more than half had already visited one store by 9 a.m.
Men and Women Shop Differently
While most Black Friday shoppers are women, men do participate. Not only that, they spent more last year than the women did: $420.37 vs. $304.30.
“Men tend to shop all at one time, to get the whole thing over with,” Gresham says. “It’s either going to be that day or Christmas Eve.” And the reason they outspend women, she says, is because they tend to do it all at once. “They don’t like to shop in repeated small bits of time. And they’re not going to take any extra time and effort to go to another store down the street that has a lower price. They’re very efficient shoppers, which means they spend more.”
From the retailer’s point of view, spending is the whole idea behind Black Friday. It is, in fact, how the day got its name. Black Friday — the conventional wisdom goes — puts retailers in the black.
Multi award-winning Carol Carter has been a business journalist since 1978, when she was among the founding staff of Atlanta Business Chronicle, for which she served as editor, managing editor, reporter, and columnist. She covered retail news for the Chronicle for five years, wrote a column about retail stores for Southline newspaper in Atlanta, and was the consumer reporter for NBC-affiliate WXIA-TV’s Noonday show.