Is Thursday the New (Black) Friday? Barbara Bickart Weighs In

in Faculty, Faculty in the News, News
November 21st, 2013

Those early-bird sales that drive consumers wild on Black Friday? They just got earlier. A number of large retailers will now open at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving night, offering doorbuster deals like never before. Though the announcement has received some backlash on social media, as well as some retailers announcing that they will remain closed on Thanksgiving in order to give their employees the entire holiday off, there is still strong consumer interest in starting the shopping rush on Thursday.

Barbara Bickart

Professor Voices, a timely collection of newsworthy commentary and analysis from Boston University faculty and experts, asked associate professor of marketing Barbara Bickart, “Is Thursday really the new (Black) Friday or is it just a marketing gimmick?” An authority on consumer decision-making processes, Bickart explains what shopping on Thanksgiving says about retailers and consumers alike, and the potential economic impact.

Professor Voices: What does it say about the retailers that will open for sales Thanksgiving night?

Barbara Bickart: The Black Friday weekend is so important for retailers and the competition for consumers is so fierce that retailers are willing to do whatever is necessary to gain market share and sales. Retailers believe that if competitors are opening earlier and offering more deals, they could lose out. The possibility of being a consumer’s first choice for holiday shopping has a large potential payoff that outweighs the possible risks associated with backlash, particularly when there are six fewer shopping days before Christmas this year. Some stores, like Walmart, are starting Black Friday a week early, both in the store and online. It is clearly competitive forces and the desire to at least meet or beat the competition that is driving these decisions and the Black Friday “creep.”

PV: What does it say about the consumers who will go shopping Thanksgiving night?

BB: There could be different reasons that consumers shop on Thanksgiving night. Probably most important, many consumers look forward to the deals on Black Friday.  The earlier start to shopping could be very enticing for these deal-seeking consumers, who are motivated by the thrill of finding a bargain. In addition, many consumers are likely to believe that if they don’t shop on Thanksgiving night, they will miss out on the deals. This idea that deals are “scarce” is a big motivator for shoppers to get to the stores early and make purchases. Finally, there may be a group of consumers who enjoy the ritual of shopping on Black Friday and see the earlier time as a way to expand the ritual. It also may feel less hectic and stressful to shop on Thanksgiving night, compared to the early morning hours of Black Friday.

PV: Are retailers really offering better deals on Thanksgiving night than on Black Friday or is it just a marketing tool to get shoppers in the door?

BB: It is my understanding that the deals on Thanksgiving will actually be better than those on Black Friday. Retailers may feel that consumers need an extra incentive to push away from the table on Thanksgiving evening and head out to the mall. Retailers are also making these deals seem less risky—for example, by guaranteeing that customers shopping on Thanksgiving will receive the product on deal before Christmas, even if it sells out that night. Retailers need to convince consumers that shopping on Thanksgiving is worth the time, effort and disruption to the holiday, so at least until the shopping ritual is established I would expect the Thanksgiving deals to be better than those on Black Friday.

Read the full Q&A here.