The Psychology of Black Friday Shopping

By Regan Shanahan
For Unwind magazine

As December draws closer, shoppers everywhere are gearing up for the holiday shopping scene. ‘Tis the season that has come to symbolize things such as family feasts, getting to spend time at home, and viciously tearing through sales racks to find the best deals.

Welcome to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when an estimated 133,700,000 Americans are enticed into stores with sales and long shopping hours. Black Friday has become a holiday event in and of itself, with families and friends hitting the stores in the wee hours of the morning, hoping to score the deal of the century.


“I’ve seen people come in limos or in their pajamas and they’re having a great time spending the whole night shopping,” said Shara Shanahan, a marketing director and head store manager for J. Crew.

Marketing professor Jie Zhang agreed.

“Revenues generated on this day are becoming less important,” she said. “Deal hunting together on Black Friday has become a tradition for many American families.”

While many critics have said that Black Friday undermines the intent of Thanksgiving, Zhang disagrees.

“I don’t think it necessarily contradicts with the thankfulness and charitable spirit of the holiday season, as long as people don’t go overboard,” she said. “If they can show love and care for others by giving gifts, while saving some money in doing [it], why not?”

Some shoppers, however, take things a little too far. Since 2006, there have been seven deaths and 98 injuries that are Black Friday-related, according to the website

“One year there were two people ripping a box of chocolates out of each other’s hands and yelling at each other,”said Abby Ridgeway, a psychology major and sales associate at Godiva.

Shanahan has had similar experiences, recalling, “I’ve seen fights in the middle of the store over shirts or sweaters or some other item if [it is] the last one.”

These outbreaks are much milder than incidences in the past. In 2012, a couple was shot and injured in a Tallahassee, Florida, Walmart parking lot over a parking space. In 2008, a Walmart worker was trampled to death by a Black Friday stampede in Long Island, New York. In 2011, a man collapsed in a South Charleston, West Virginia, Target due to heart failure, and shoppers actually stepped over him to continue shopping; he later died in a hospital.

“The deals aren’t even really worth it, quite honestly,” said Shanahan. “You can get the same deals the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.”

Ridgeway agreed, “The sales at Godiva are discounted anyway in Woodbury Commons or in other malls or outlets, so it’s basically false advertising.”

Despite incidences with fighting, Zhang said there has actually been a change in shoppers’ Black Friday mindsets in recent years,“most shoppers don’t have an obsessive psychological response to sales on Black Friday,” she said.

“Holidays deals have been increasingly spread over a wider period of time and offered via multiple channels,” Zhang added. “As a result, people are becoming less obsessive with Black Friday. They are more driven by fun and curiosity than the zeal for best deals.”

Rabia Dhanani, a freshmen in the College of Education and annual Black Friday shopper, sees Black Friday as a fun social activity.

“Black Friday shopping is my middle name,” Dhanani said. “I leave dinner early and go shopping from the time the mall opens to the time it closes; I love it. I’ve even fought in a Sephora over mascara. People get intense.”

That approach isn’t for everyone, though. “I have never felt the need to and never plan to go Black Friday shopping,” said Brett Blum, a freshman journalism major.

So whether you are staying in or joining the hunt, just remember that sales are not a onetime thing and to enjoy the holiday season.


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