Skip to main content

Why Black Friday shoppers endure the crush

By Ann Hoevel, CNN
November 22, 2012 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Black Friday shoppers gleefully rush through the doors of the New York City Macy's after it opened its doors at midnight on November 25, 2011. Black Friday shoppers gleefully rush through the doors of the New York City Macy's after it opened its doors at midnight on November 25, 2011.
HIDE CAPTION
New York City
Eden Prarie, Minnesota
Fort Worth, Texas
Hobart, Indiana
Duarte, California
Fairfax, Virginia
Clinton, Maryland
Pleasant Prarie, Wisconsin
Fort Worth, Texas
Los Angeles, California
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The communal aspect of Black Friday shopping can often outweigh the hassle
  • Many families have turned Black Friday into a Thanksgiving tradition
  • If you can't wait in long lines or shop patiently, Black Friday veterans advise: Don't go!

Share your Black Friday experience with CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- News footage of Black Friday sales, in which shoppers line up after Thanksgiving in search of steeply reduced merchandise, can resemble an episode of the classic nature show "Wild Kingdom."

Shoppers wind neatly along the edges of big box stores like patiently waiting army ants. As doors open, sleep-deprived bargain hunters leap past one another like spawning salmon flinging themselves upstream. At close of business we see bare, dangling store shelves, reminiscent of the gnawed carcasses left behind by a pride of lions.

To those who don't participate, Black Friday may seem like madness, an exercise in chaos to be avoided at all costs. But for the initiated, the country's biggest shopping day is something more: a jump start on Christmas shopping and even a ritual worth preserving.

It's impossible not to marvel at the spectacle. CNN.com readers shared their own dramatic stories about the annual event in the comments section of a recent article.

Let Black Friday deal hunting begin
Deal seekers set up Black Friday camp
When Black Friday goes bad
Toys 'R' Us CEO spills on hot gifts

"At about 10 p.m. Thanksgiving 2011, someone sat their Grandma at a bin in the aisle at Walmart with her hand on a DVD discounted from $19 to $5 until the clock struck midnight to make sure she got it," reader Mark Nelson remembered.

"People started disregarding the etiquette and just stashing items in their jackets instead of leaving them in the shrink-wrapped displays. People were shoving and screaming at each other," he wrote. "A woman was brought to the front and kicked out for bringing a firearm into the store and brandishing it at a rival shopper. It was the grandma hoping to score the $5 DVD."

Black Friday: Shorter lines, but bigger checks

So what's the draw of risking life and limb for discounted DVDs?

"It feels like some kind of communal shopping experience, something we're all in together," said Brian Ginn, a friend of mine from college who has been braving the Black Friday crowds for a decade.

He usually only makes four or five purchases on Black Friday, spending around $400. It's worth the effort, he said, to "soak up the mad capitalist consumer energy of Black Friday!"

"It's pretty exciting to see people shopping like crazy," Ginn said, "even if my enthusiasm gets dampened by the long lines and occasional surly shopper."

For some, the retail spree is a family tradition.

"I started Black Friday shopping with my Dad," Ginn said. At first, they shopped for equipment and supplies for Brian's IT consulting business because of 40% to 50% savings. That was 10 years ago. Now 41 and a father, Ginn's Black Friday shopping strategy has branched out to include deals on toys for his son.

This year's Black Friday will be a lot different, he said, since his father passed away in March. "I'll definitely have breakfast at the Waffle House when I'm done, which is what we always did," he said.

Jessica Collier, 31, also shops on Black Friday because of family tradition.

"The first memory I have of Black Friday shopping is from when I was about 6 or 7 years old," she said. " My mom, grandma and I went to a large department store in Florida. I have been every year since then." This year, her husband will join in the tradition, but the couple's daughter still has a few years to go before she can drink coffee and stay up all night for long lines and "doorbusters."

Now that Collier and her mother live in different states, they can't always shop together. "I always call her when I'm headed out," she said. "I've become her wake-up call, usually around 2 a.m."

For Lori Elmore, a health policy analyst for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Black Friday isn't about family, but about the thrill of the bargain hunt. "I tried to make it a family tradition," she said, "but my family members dropped out after one time. They couldn't hang with me, they didn't have the stamina."

These Black Friday veterans acknowledge that some of their fellow shoppers turn into ruthless retail competitors mere hours after giving thanks during a dinner of turkey and pumpkin pie. "I've been hit with a shopping cart, had people take things out of my cart, had people start fighting in line, had someone take something out of my hands before," Collier said. But often, the shopping means meeting new people, comparing lists and having fun.

"My experience has been that most people are helpful, patient and excited," Ginn said. "That may be particular to the South, but I don't think so."

Collier and her mother even charmed a particularly long line into singing Christmas carols last year.

"My mom found one of those weird singing Christmas tree tats and wore it in line," she said. "The tree lit up and danced while she sang at the top of her lungs. Of course, that story preceded us to the next store on our list, where total strangers were talking about it."

HLN: Confessions of a Black Friday shopaholic

"I have learned over the years that you need to pack your patience and a sense of humor," when headed out on a Black Friday shopping trip, Elmore said. "If you don't have either, you are in for a miserable experience."

Impatience can result in stampedes or fights, which retailers are taking steps to avoid this year. WalMart, for example, is offering Guarantee Cards, which allow shoppers to get iPads, LCD TVs and Blu-ray players at Black Friday prices before they get their hands on the items. Shoppers will get the items before Christmas, so sellouts are theoretically no longer a reason for crowds to lose their cool.

The U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA group has issued Black Friday safety guidelines for retailers to avoid injury during the start of the holiday shopping season. And stores across the country are working with local law enforcement help to keep crowds safe and shopping.

The National Retail Federation estimates 147 million people will venture out this Friday, Saturday and Sunday to take advantage of holiday sales. President Matthew Shay said in a recent press release, "Though the Black Friday tradition is here to stay, there's no question that it has changed in recent years." No longer do shoppers wait to find out Black Friday promotions in the Thanksgiving Day morning paper, he said. Now companies provide information through social media, mobile apps and specialized websites.

Collier usually begins watching for Black Friday information online in mid-October. Blackfriday.com is a favorite of hers -- the site offers Black Friday ads and cash back on certain purchases -- but she won't forgo in-store shopping for online Cyber Monday deals. She prefers the in-person rush.

A few years ago, with a large outlet mall as her target, Collier and her mother could not find a parking spot at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. So they drove out of the parking lot and found a hotel parking lot behind the mall where they could leave their car.

"The mall was at the top of a hill, so we started hiking, literally," Collier said. At the top of the hill, they were suddenly faced with the town's drainage ditch. In order to make it to the Coach store, which was offering everything at 50% off, "we had to climb down the drainage wall and back up the other side," she said. "We laughed our way through our desperation and got to the mall."

And at 5 a.m., loaded down with bags full of Black Friday loot, she and her mother climbed back up the stone drainage wall on hands and knees.

Anything for a bargain.

Like CNN Living on Facebook

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Thanksgiving
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)
My mother, brother, cousin and I gathered in my 87-year-old grandmother's room at the nursing home. We knew it would be one of the last times we would see her alive.
November 28, 2013 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Jamie Ordonez is one of the lucky retail employees who will enjoy Thanksgiving Day without having to rush to work. But a brother-in-law isn't as lucky.
November 22, 2013 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Everything you need to know about this November holiday.
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 0742 GMT (1542 HKT)
This Thanksgiving, a battle is brewing. A life-and-death contest orchestrated at the highest levels of power.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
Thanksgiving is the busiest travel holiday of the year, with tens of millions expected to hit the road over the extended four-day weekend.
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 0534 GMT (1334 HKT)
Along a pastoral lane at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate sits a sizable wooden pen built specifically to house the two turkeys that will be "pardoned" at the White House on Wednesday.
turkey thanksgiving kid
We're sharing our time-tested Thanksgiving hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities, hosts and home cooks we love.
November 21, 2012 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Find out what celebrities are doing this Thanksgiving.
November 21, 2012 -- Updated 1705 GMT (0105 HKT)
Real Simple asked three creative geniuses to come up with beautiful, unusual displays that anyone can successfully replicate.
November 21, 2013 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)
Martha Stewart lends some great ideas for the center of your Thanksgiving table.
November 21, 2013 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The dining room has had a difficult few decades. Here are some top tips for setting the scene and the table for your biggest feast of the year.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Here's some background information about Thanksgiving Day, celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November.
November 21, 2012 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
On a clear dry day, driving 55 mph, it takes long-haul trucker Camille Pask the length of three football fields to stop her fully loaded rig.
November 22, 2012 -- Updated 1428 GMT (2228 HKT)
Judy Warzenski didn't realize how bad her father, Donald's, memory had gotten until he turned to her sister Joyce and asked, "Where's the girl who was sitting next to you?"
November 19, 2012 -- Updated 1110 GMT (1910 HKT)
These clever strategies will help you handle Thanksgiving with less stress and more sanity.
November 19, 2012 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
What topics do you avoid over dinner? How do you coordinate visiting all of your relatives? Real Simple breaks it down.
turkey head
Gratitude is the watchword, and it's incredibly easy to lose sight of that while you're bogged down in the details of serving a dinner that packs a certain amount of expectation. So how about giving yourself a break?
ADVERTISEMENT