Jeenah Moon/The New York Times

November 29, 2019

Black Friday Steals and Deals: Consumer Behavior During the Holiday Season

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As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us look forward to eating delicious food and being surrounded by our loved ones. However, there’s one more thing that comes to mind during Thanksgiving weekend: Black Friday shopping.

For many, it’s quite ironic that the biggest shopping day of the year is right after the day about being grateful for what we already have. Black Friday sales even start as early as Thursday evening at many major retailers.

Prof. J. Edward Russo, management, defines consumer behavior as anything that involves a consumption activity, including purchasing, evaluation and using products. According to him, disposal is an important part of consumer behavior.

“These days we’ve become much more sensitive to things like disposal. One of the first rules or guidelines of anything involving sustainability is to remember this: Everything’s got to go somewhere. So part of consumer behavior, which has been understudied and is becoming more appreciated, is disposal,” Russo said.

Russo also explained that there are many internal and external factors that influence people’s decisions when making purchases. The former includes knowledge of preference, experience with the products and brand names, and the latter could be the influence of a salesperson or advertising.

Russo said that consumer behavior changes during the holiday season due to the main goal that people have during this time of the year: to buy gifts.

“[Purchasing decisions] are determined by your goals: knowing why you are buying something, what’s its purpose, and around the holidays, the purpose is often gift giving. So it’s less about you and more about other people. That’s the single biggest change about the holidays,” Russo said.

Russo also said that deciding on what gift to buy isn’t always about the recipient.

“Sometimes you’re giving a gift to a spouse or a child, so the gift stays in the house and it affects you a lot too. If you have a 10-year-old child, and you give that child a drum set … it’s going to affect the whole house,” he said.

Since the holiday shopping season kicks off with Black Friday, Russo said that consistent advertising is a key component in attracting shoppers.

“[There are] lots of announcements about low prices: that you’re going to get a deal now that you may not get in two or three weeks, either because the price won’t be this low [again] or because they’ll be out of stock, so grab it while you can,” Russo said.

Cyber Monday, which is the Monday after Black Friday, has also become popular over the recent years. Shoppers are able to take advantage of discounted prices with just a few clicks.

“Online shopping has been more secure in terms of payment methods. It’s [also] been more user-friendly, so we have more one-click shopping,” Russo said.

However, Russo said that Cyber Monday isn’t the most sustainable alternative to in-store shopping.

“An awful lot of trucks are driving around and using gasoline, and an awful lot of cardboard boxes have to be recycled,” Russo said.

According to Russo, one of the biggest challenges consumers face during the holiday season is genuinely understanding the perspective of the gift recipient.

“If you’re buying for someone like a younger sibling, you were there a couple of years ago yourself, so it’s easier to think about what they’re going to like. If you’re buying for your parents, or for an uncle or grandparents, well, that’s a stretch. It takes more work to think about who they are and what their needs are, or just what their likes are, what would please them, or what would surprise them,” Russo said.

However, age differences among the gift giver and the recipient can actually be an advantage. With a technology-oriented gift, a college student could teach their parents and grandparents about technology and hence form a bonding experience.

But despite the thrill of purchasing and the lovely idea behind gift-giving, even though it’s currently the biggest shopping season of the year, Russo said that spending money isn’t the only way to show that you care about someone.

“What you really want to signal with a gift is love, and college students sometimes can’t signal love with money,” Russo said. “Maybe they can devote time instead of money — time to teach you about a new electronic device or how to use your computer better, or how to use your phone better — maybe that’s a gift that college students can give that signals love, with less money,” Russo explained.