Manic Black Friday shopping dying as a Thanksgiving weekend tradition, Mason professor says

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Gautham Vadakkepatt. Photo provided

Black Friday, marking the beginning of Christmas shopping, was once the hallmark of post-Thanksgiving celebrations. Stores would drop prices, and consumers would line up and sometimes even fight each other or stampede. But crazed Black Friday shopping is unlikely to return as a Thanksgiving tradition, according to a George Mason University professor.

Gautham Vadakkepatt, director of the Center for Retail Transformation in the School of Business, believes that huge sales on Thanksgiving afternoon and Friday to draw consumers into stores in droves is a thing of the past.

“Black Friday started as a marketing effort to get people excited to get into the stores for Christmas, but the culture is changing,” Vadakkepatt said. “Companies can spread out their sales across time, so they don’t have to encourage or manage manic behavior.”

 Vadakkepatt said that, with COVID-19, retailers are “further recognizing that they have to be responsible in their behavior and not encourage severe crowding of stores.”

In addition, said Vadakkepatt, retailers are trying to be responsive to their employees and their needs over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Black Friday shopping became increasingly popular as part of the American Thanksgiving tradition in the late 20th century and early 21st century. But even before the pandemic, the tradition was starting to lose steam, due in part to the dramatic increase in online shopping, said Vadakkepatt.

“People were beginning to resist the idea of standing in line as part of a herd mentality,” said Vadakkepatt.

Since the pandemic began, shopping behavior changed even more drastically. Many individuals have been reluctant to crowd into stores, and retailers have been trying to help contain the spread of COVID-19 with mask requirements, social distancing and even by limiting the number of individuals allowed on their premises at one time. Online shopping further increased in popularity, said Vadakkepatt, a trend that is unlikely to change.

In addition, supply is already limited for many of the “big ticket items,” according to Vadakkepatt.

“We are still in a pandemic, and supply chain challenges are high,” said Vadakkepatt. “If you really want an item, you probably should buy it before Thanksgiving this year. Discounts will also be reduced due to inflation, supply and labor shortages”

Vadakkepatt said that the demise of Black Friday is a positive development for consumers. The drama and competition that accompanied Black Friday shopping led to what he called “irrational consumption.”

“For consumers who got caught up in Black Friday shopping, there was often the consequences of high regret for purchasing too much or unneeded items,” said Vadakkepatt. “So now consumers can hopefully shop more thoughtfully and intentionally.”

Vadakkepatt’s research focuses the impact of a firm’s nonproduct marketing strategies (e.g., lobbying, CSR, social activism) on its performance, the impact of social media on firm performance, and understanding how financial decisions impact a firm’s marketing and innovation outcomes.

To reach Gautham Vadakkepatt directly, contact him at gvadakke@gmu.edu

For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at apersky@gmu.edu

About George Mason 
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.