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The Dark Side of Black Friday

23 November, 2017 Leave a comment

Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, is almost here. Falling on November 24th this year, retailers have been strong to encourage participation in the forthcoming sales. Emails promoting early offers and temporary in-store displays promoting savings are two ways retailers communicate their offers with potential shoppers.

While we can’t predict exactly what will happen this year, in 2016 over the four days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday Britons spent a record £5.8 billion according to The Centre for Retail Research. Though Black Friday shoppers are often depicted as frantic customers, waiting hours before tackling each other for discounted electronics, the psychological reasons for partaking aren’t quite so crazy.

Picture Perfect

How information is presented to an individual can drastically affect judgments and decision making. This is a concept known as the Framing Effect, where people can reach different conclusions based on how information or a question is presented. Positive frames tend to elicit positive feelings and result in risk taking behaviour. Through the media, Black Friday has been glorified as the best day of the year to shop, associated with huge price cuts not to be missed. When exposed to this positive frame shoppers are more likely to be proactive buyers when sales are started.

Feelin’ good

Retailers work months in advance to create the perfect advertising campaigns for Black Friday. Teasing offers months in advance and forecasting exact deal dates increases anticipation leading to a stronger desire to purchase. Early anticipation for a positively associated event increases the release of dopamine, a pleasurable reward chemical that will keep shoppers on the edge of their seat!

Likewise, when deals are released, the brains reward system kicks in. Instinctually when we see a sale we’re rewarded with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction because really, who doesn’t love to save money?

Going, going, gone

A key focus of Black Friday is the emphasis on the limited opportunity shoppers have to buy. Why? Because scarcity increases desirability. When an object is scarce humans assume its value is higher. Online deals during Black Friday accomplish this particularly well. Displaying how much stock has gone along with how much is left creates a real sense of urgency.

Commonly referred to as The Fear of Missing Out, the motivation to avoid losses has been shown as more effective than a desire to gain. During Black Friday, visibly seeing what products have already gone coupled with the looming deadline to buy before the day’s end directly targets human beings’ instinctual preference to avoid losses.

The allure of Black Friday bargains speaks to human nature. The build-up to limited time offers drives people to impulsively buy. Keeping a clear head amongst the masses is key to grabbing a real bargain. It will be interesting to see how Black Friday evolves this year. Not only to see the change in spending but also if retailers are able to get shoppers off the computer and into the store.

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