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Black Friday Shoppers: Not as Poor as You Thought

Posted by: Dan Beucke on December 2, 2011 at 5:00 PM


The Black Friday shopper may be wealthier than we thought. A week ago, I posed the question of whether there is a class divide between those who hit the stores the Friday after Thanksgiving and those who stay home. (As the New York Times put it: “Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home.”) I noted that luxury stories didn’t have midnight “door buster” sales, and that the folks you see in the pictures and videos from those chaotic store scenes look young and hungry — eager for a bargain and energetic enough to fight the crowds for it.

Now comes a follow-up report from the folks at The NPD Group that may throw some of that into doubt. In a nationwide online survey of 4,000 people, the group (which studies consumers and retailers) says the largest segment of respondents who shopped on Black Friday — 35.1% — reported incomes of $100,000 or more. Under-$25,000 incomes came to 18.4%, and $25,000 to $50,000, 16.7%. Age-wise, the biggest segment of Black Friday shoppers — 20.4% — were 55-64 years old, vs. 19.9% who were 25-34.

I asked Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, if he was as surprised as I was by the age and income breakdown. “Regarding the seniors, not a surprise in that it is high up there,” he said via email, “but a surprise they are number one. The reason they are high up on the list is that they have the time, desire and freedom.” Having higher credit limits and more dual incomes — not to mention having a day off from work — might help explain why the well-off would be well represented.

The data cover Thursday and Friday shoppers. So while the survey captures people who lined up before midnight to storm the doors of Wal-Mart, it also describes those who slept in and let the mob clear a little before spending a leisurely few hours at an upscale mall. I told Marshal I’m generally skeptical of online surveys (those answering the questions by definition have a computer, for instance, which might select out some with low incomes). He offered a strong defense of the NPD survey, which I’ll quote here:

We spend a great deal of time balancing the surveys, making sure we get the right balance of income, age, gender, and even location. So having over 15 years of surveying online, we do find it is a very strong representative of the general population. Especially when the sample size is robust enough, as in this case, over 4000 is very large in comparison to many online surveys that only poll 250 to 300 people (a good reason why you have some reservations).

So do I understand your skepticism? Yes. Do I agree with it? No. We also use panelists, not random survey respondents. The difference is we don’t ask the question about income, we already know the answer, so they don’t have to exaggerate. A panelist is an opt in participant that is part of our almost 3 million people panel. So again no reason or benefit for them to false report. I would agree if this was a random small online poll. These are not.

(Photographer: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Reader Comments

Sally in Chicago

December 3, 2011 6:47 PM

The age bracket is a big surprise, because I saw the pictures and everyone looked younger than 40 years old. I wonder if there was a difference between Online BLACK FRIDAY shoppers and in-store shoppers?
And I said after, that people had money. Americans are very resourceful, we will find a way to make money and have money. Anybody who is totally broke has a pea for a brain. Because there is money to be had. Now, I'm not labeling it legal or illegal, but we are a resourceful people and we will mop floors if necessary to put some money in our pockets.


December 3, 2011 8:03 PM

The age bracket is inconsequential as far as this article is concerned. 20.4% vs. 19.9%? Surely the .5% difference is within the margin of error. Thus, the takeaway is more likely that higher-income households across all age groups spent more on Black Friday.


December 4, 2011 2:19 AM

Can't even begin to credit a set of data that relies on people reporting their income or worth --- truthfully to a surveyor.

What exactly should we take as verification that "over $1oo,ooo" income reports from survey responders ... might be true ?

Norman Chang

December 4, 2011 4:23 AM

In England where I am writing from, this age and salary bracket is known as "the squeezed middle", where people are caught between those on less income whose government benefits outstrip their contributions if out of work, and those on higher salaries who need not look for sales opportunities. One conclusion is that these people swamping the sales, are not that well-off but are simply looking for a reduced price goods rather than pay endless taxes with interest rates close to zero. From a Bloomberg Business Week UK subscriber.

Kevin N

December 4, 2011 2:33 PM

This is terribly lazy reporting. First of all, the author is surely referring to "household income", though he never says that. Second, we're told that the survey has a strong defense and is more accurate because it's "opt-in", which is clearly untrue. Weak.

Shemeka Over

December 7, 2011 7:13 PM

Great post!

Jason Cocola

December 8, 2011 2:43 AM

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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"The Wealth Debate" is a running discussion of wealth, poverty, the economy and income inequality in the U.S. and the world. It was started shortly after the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked a global protest about the fallout from the financial crisis and money in politics. You can reach the editors, Dan Beucke and Mark Gimein, by email, or follow BloombergNow on Twitter to keep up with posts.

Analyses or commentary in this blog are the views of the author and or commentators, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg News.

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