What Is a Doorbuster?

A doorbuster is a marketing and sales strategy retailers use to get a high volume of customers into their stores during opening hours. During a doorbuster sale, a particular item or a selection of items is offered at a special discount price for a limited time. The aim is to get customers in the door or "bust open the doors" to buy the merchandise and look at other items for sale.

Key Takeaways

  • A doorbuster is a marketing and sales strategy retailers use to get a high volume of customers into their stores.
  • During a doorbuster, a particular item or a selection of items is offered at a special discount price for a limited time.
  • Doorbusters may be limited by the number of items available or by the amount of time they are priced at a certain discount level before they revert to their normal price.
  • One of the biggest seasons for doorbuster events is the holiday shopping season, which runs from before Black Friday through Christmas.

How a Doorbuster Works

A doorbuster—sometimes also called "door crasher or "doorsmasher"— is a strategy that serves a dual purpose. Primarily, doorbusters are all about revenue generation. Some companies have doorbuster events a few times each year to drive revenue and to clear out seasonal inventory. The goal is to get customers into the store to buy specific items on sale and also to get them to come in and look around at what other items the store has to offer.

The idea behind the "limited time" strategy is to get customers to rush into a particular store in order to take advantage of these deals, but also to dissuade them from going into a competitor's store. Based on the strategy, a doorbuster has the same goal as the "loss leader strategy," which seeks to attract customers by offering an item at a deeply discounted price, often at a loss.

One of the biggest seasons for doorbuster events is the holiday shopping season, which runs from before Black Friday through Christmas. Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving in the United States—kicks off the holiday shopping season. Boxing Day, the first weekday after Christmas, is a traditional shopping day in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Commonwealth countries. Generating strong revenue during this key time period is important to close out the year, and doorbusters are effective tools for achieving revenue goals.

During these shopping-event days, stores tend to open far earlier than usual, such as midnight or even late on Thanksgiving evening (though the majority of stores won't be open on Thanksgiving in the pandemic year of 2020). To entice shoppers to take advantage of the additional shopping hours, they feature doorbusters. Many retailers don't enjoy doorbuster events because of the stress such events put on employees, but are compelled to participate to keep up with competitors and attract bargain-hungry customers into their establishment.

In 2020, retailers are changing their approach to the holiday shopping season to comply with social distancing recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Kohl's decided not to open brick-and-mortar locations on Thanksgiving day to prevent the crush of crowds seeking doorbuster deals. Many retailers also started running sales promotions as early as October both in store and online. 

Special Considerations

Doorbusters may be limited by the number of items available or by the amount of time they are priced at a certain discount level before they revert to their normal price. Such doorbuster sales may employ a small-print disclosure of "while supplies last."

124 million

The number of Americans who shopped in stores during Thanksgiving weekend in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. 

When a very small number of deeply discounted doorbuster items are offered—and they invariably sell out fast—offering a similar but more expensive item at full price may constitute a "bait and switch." Such a practice is considered an unfair sales and promotion practice and is illegal in many countries. Many retailers now disclose exactly how many of a particular doorbuster item is in stock.