Who is the Black Friday shopper? And what propels her to shop the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the world is sleeping — or even on Thanksgiving Day?

This story first appeared in the November 21, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I don’t understand those people. They should be home with their families,” said Terron Schaefer, Saks Fifth Avenue’s chief creative director and judge on NBC’s “Fashion Star.”

“It’s the treasure hunt. Black Friday shoppers love this game of shopping. They celebrate how little they spent — that I scored this or that, for such and such a price,” said Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell, a market research and consulting company.

But it’s not just about chalking up the bargain. By the end of the turkey dinner, “We have exhausted all of the safe conversations we have with our families. So we go shopping on Friday, instead of dealing,” explained Underhill. “We make it a sport, like playing touch football, so we don’t have to talk so much anymore.”

“If you are a kid back from college or on break from high school, why sit around with the parents? You want to be with your buddies,” observed Craig Johnson, president of consultancy Customer Growth Partners.

RELATED STORY: M-commerce Primed for Big Holiday Season >>

According to a Deloitte online survey Nov. 14 of 1,000 consumers, Black Friday shoppers will hit the stores early — 22 percent at midnight; 46 percent between midnight and 5 a.m.

The Black Friday shopper isn’t monolithic. There are three types, very generally speaking, according to retail experts.  The biggest group: teenage girls and young women up to age 30. They shop in packs, focus on teen specialty chains like Aéropostale and Zumiez, and are spending as much, if not more, on themselves as they are for gifts. They don’t necessarily spend big, and they regard the outing as much as, if not more, of a social experience, with a restaurant stop or some clubbing on the agenda.


However, it’s shopping at its most efficient. “They’ve spent a lot of time researching their favorite stores. They’ll spend most of their time and money in the first two stores they go to,” said Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare, a strategy consulting firm. And maybe they’ll hit one or two more stores where spending tails off dramatically, she added. “They’re buying, not just scanning the stores — self-purchasing, primarily,” said Cohen. “They’re really on a scavenger or a treasure hunt. They know the stores. It becomes a badge of honor.”

The second Black Friday type is the “hard-core” shopper. She’s typically female, 25 to 55 years old and with one or two children. She’s hungry for bargains and likely to venture out Thanksgiving night, or early Friday morning. Preferred stores include Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Target and Wal-Mart. She angles for items that are low to moderately priced and tends to be part of a blue-collar or pink-collar demographic, not high-income people. “There are serious-mission shoppers,” said Johnson.

A subset would be their men, who are primarily shopping for electronics and toys for their kids. Half shop with their wives; half go it alone, or with a friend. In the majority of cases; they hit power centers and big-box stores first, specifically sporting goods and electronics chains.

RELATED STORY: Holiday Season Begins With Nonstop Deals >>

The third Black Friday shopper type is the family. And typically, it’s families that are new to America, have several kids and can’t afford the babysitter, particularly at the holiday rate. They’re on a tight budget yet very willing to fork up a large percentage of their disposable dollars on Black Friday, largely for gifts. The kids are in their diapers and crying, but the family will wait for hours on the checkout line. 

“They take the entire gang out to shop as a group,” Johnson said. Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are the stores they hit first, and they’re well aware of the doorbusters. With a special that goes into effect at a certain time, they’ll make sure to get to the store an hour or two ahead of time to make sure the item is still stocked and safely stowed in their shopping cart. “These are very strategic shoppers,” Johnson said.

Fifty-seven percent of Black Friday shoppers find the experience to be fun, while 43 percent don’t find it fun, according to a Black Friday crowd study of about 460 consumers, with an average age of 33, conducted by Marvin Traub Associates for WWD this week.

In addition, 42 percent of the sampling said they like shopping Black Friday more than any other day of the year; 29 percent said they like it less, and the remainder were either indifferent or said they don’t shop Black Friday at all.

Of 450 respondents, 68 percent said they usually research products and prices in advance of their Black Friday excursions; 17 percent said not usually; 3 percent said not at all, and 12 percent said they didn’t shop Black Friday.