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Three Observations from Early Black Friday Morning

Phenomenon from Black Friday that was not exposed on the media

Source: Joanne Broder Sumerson
Source: Joanne Broder Sumerson

Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, kicks off the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving, a holiday intended to bring people together to share gratitude and love. According to (2013), there have been seven deaths and ninety injuries since 2006 in the United States. Black Friday fist fights and riots have been shared through You Tube videos, news stories and social media; so it can easily be perceived that you are risking your life if you participate.

As a self-proclaimed introvert who needs to be in the mood to shop, I never even considered the Black Friday shopping thing. However, it was a reality show worth the watch. Year after year, I found myself plugged into social media as well as watched and read other people’s experiences. So this year, after my guests left, the kitchen was clean, and my sons went to bed, it was time to be a fly on the wall and witness the Black Friday phenomenon for myself.

This led to my informal, qualitative research question: How can the Black Friday experience be described? I hypothesized it would be described as wild, angry, crowded, loud, rowdy, and dramatic because of the experiences shown through the media. Given that I am a former prison counselor with a great deal of riot and hostage situation training, I was ready for anything.

Shopping was observed at a large multi-department chain retailer from 12:30-1:30 a.m. Admittedly, it was hours after Door Buster time, when the stores open and people pack up their tents to trample each other to get the biggest bargain, but interrupting my Thanksgiving was not an option. The store was located in suburban New Jersey, twenty minutes outside of Philadelphia; in a small town, surrounded by small towns that are generally diverse in race and socioeconomic status.

My hypothesis was mostly challenged. Here is what I learned from my observation:

1. The Shoppers Did Not Want to Be There

The first clue was the tailgating in the parking lot. There were a number of tailgaters, people sitting in their idled, parked cars psyching themselves up for the experience. In the store, there were very few smiles, but red eyes and faded make-up. People seemed to be doing the walk of shame; heads held low with a hint of pride. Some were dressed from the party and others looked more relaxed.

It appeared that all of the token people situations come out for Black Friday. There were the ladies’ night out crew, dudes’ night out (their groups were smaller than the ladies’ groups), families, couples, and random people shopping alone. There was even a pregnant woman, whose stamina must have impressed me, since I gave her an empathetic yawn.

There was one happy looking lady, who wore an ear-to-ear smile as she inspected a super-ugly candelabra. For the first time that night I bit my lip; it took all I had not to say, “don’t do it—they will hate it!” I’m glad I filtered, because it would have been very un-holiday season-ish to ruin her fantasy. My hypothesis was totally rejected here since the customers were anything but wild, loud, angry, rowdy, and dramatic.

2. The Staff Did Not Want to Be There

Mimicking a happy elf was definitely not a part of the Black Friday employee playbook. Staff members were overtly angry. They stood in groups of three or four, talking loudly about how awful it was to be there.

The group facilitator in me kicked in as I watched one particular group in the middle of a messy clothing department. More than anything, I wanted to ask, “what is happening in the group right now?”, despite that it was clearly evident the team was in Stage Two, from the uncensored complaints and lack of productivity (Wheelan, 2012). For the second time, I felt thankful I bit my lip or I probably would have cause the riot I was prepared to survive.

The staff neither seemed to notice me, nor cared. They must be used to unusual behavior; I walked around the store, dictated observations, took notes, drank a cup of tea, but with no cart or merchandise. Overall, the staff slightly supported my hypothesis in terms of the anger and volume, but no drama or rowdiness.

3. The Store was Quiet and Empty

Introverts with insomniac tendencies, listen up. During my snapshot observation between 12:30-1:30 a.m., the store was quiet and even boring, compared to what you see on the media. The same store is usually very busy.

Additionally, there was plenty of merchandise in all departments; even the popular ones like toys, electronics, and clothing. Fishing gear could have won the award for being the least desirable shopping item, since the aisle seemed pristine and untouched. I guess they need to have some crazy Black Friday sale on fishing stuff.

The checkout lines were short and uneventful, so shoppers seemed to have a peaceful exit. This observation completely challenged my hypothesis as well, since nothing at that hour can be described as dramatic, wild, rowdy, and crowded.

If you are already planning to shop next Black Friday and want peace and quiet, opposite of what you see and read, go in the middle of the night. The exciting segment of the Black Friday shopping experience is clearly when the store opens. However, I am not leaving my family to personally find out.


Black Friday Death Count by Deaths and Injuries. (2013).

Wheelan, S.A., (2012) Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders (4th

Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.