Research News

Expert: How to keep your cool—and stick to your budget—on Black Friday


Kelly Goldsmith, associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, is available to discuss shopping behavior on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. She studies how the perception of scarcity drives consumer behavior.

Reminders of scarcity prompt consumers to behave selfishly, Goldsmith says, and sales like Black Friday are tailor-made to elicit that response in bargain-hunters—sometimes in unhealthy ways.

That’s partly because Black Friday shoppers tend to be competitive to begin with, Goldsmith says. People who are willing to invest the time and energy into getting up early, standing in line, and coping with the crowds tend to be those who are already extremely determined to snag hot products at a great price before anyone else. Multiply that personality by however many people can fit in the store, and competition can get intense—and sometimes out of hand.

Keeping your cool on Black Friday

Of course, nobody wants to be that guy who punches another shopper over the last flat-screen TV in the store. Goldsmith says the key to keeping things in perspective is to remember that Black Friday is just another sale, and sales take place all year long.

“We all know these deals are coming and we kind of plan for it, especially if you’re the competitive type who really wants to make sure you get yours. But—spoiler alert—good deals are available all the time on the Internet, right? There’s more transparency than ever before about who’s pricing at what.”

Goldsmith advises setting price alerts and scanning deals well before Black Friday. Knowing what’s available and having an idea of how much you’re actually saving (or not saving!) in the store on Black Friday is a great way to help you keep your cool.

Make a list and a budget—and stick to both

Kelly Goldsmith (Owen Graduate School of Management)

Goldsmith says stores know you are invested in being there, so they’re going double down on marketing everything in the store to you—not just the holiday gifts. “You may just be there for the flat-screen, but, oh my gosh, they’ve got a great deal on diapers and what about this 20-pound bag of dog food? Next thing you know, you’re walking out to your car and you don’t even know what’s in your cart because you just got overwhelmed with all this consumer messaging,” she says.

The key is to treat Black Friday like any trip to the grocery store. “You have a list. You prioritize. You have a budget and you try to stick to it. And then the more you can make that budget concrete, really written down in really nitty-gritty detail, the easier it will be for you to stick to it.”

Really want to save? Skip the store and shop online

If you’re truly committed to getting the best possible deal, Goldsmith says, Cyber Monday may be the better bet. “The nice thing about Cyber Monday is it gives you searchability,” she says. You can scan many stores and deal sites online in a matter of minutes, whereas, “physically switching retailers is so hard. It’s going to decrease your searchability and increase your search costs—and therefore you’re less likely to do it, and you’re less likely to get all the information, and probably you’re less likely to get the best deals. You’re only going to get the deals that are right in front of you—you’re not open to the universe of possibilities of all the deals that are out there.”