The most anticipated shopping day of the year is right around the corner and buyers all over the United States will brave the early morning lines to get those hard-to-resist deals, ushering in the holiday season. Southern Utah University Assistant Professor of Marketing Tyler Stillman studies consumer behavior—the psychology behind buying and selling—and shares the top three reasons why, as hard as we try, we just can’t pass up the allure of Black Friday deals.
1.Scarcity - If a product or service is scarce, people automatically want it. Consumers respond to scarcity because they view it as being worth more. Retailers have long understood that scarcity works, exploiting the fact buyers have a built-in desire to buy hard-to-come-by products like “limited editions” or “available for a limited time” deals. “The reason Black Friday is so effective is, in part, because it’s one day of deep discounts, which instantly makes it a scarce resource,” Stillman says.
2. Culture - Stillman explains that people are deeply and thoroughly cultural beings, meaning everything we do is somehow related to who we are as a society. Black Friday has become a major American cultural event, pulling in those who might not otherwise be interested in shopping, just for the sake of it being part of the current American trend. “Think about the Super Bowl,” Stillman says. “The Super Bowl is a huge cultural event that attracts people who don’t even like football. Black Friday is the same.” According to a National Retail Federation report, 86.9 million shoppers shopped in stores and online on Black Friday in 2014.
3. Superiority - “The old understanding of self-esteem was simply knowing that people want to feel good about themselves,” Stillman says. “And that’s true as far as it goes but in this age, it doesn’t go far enough; we don’t just want to feel good about ourselves, we want to feel superior to other people.” Picture this: After a long day of Black Friday shopping, your friend texts you about the unbelievable deal he found on a big-screen TV, so you happily respond that you found the same TV for $200 cheaper at a different store. “The satisfaction we get from finding a big deal has more to do with feeling superior than it does with self-esteem,” Stillman explains. “It feels good to find an amazing deal on a TV, but it feels even greater to snag a better deal than someone else.”
Meanwhile, many retailers have decided to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day or ditch the Black Friday concept all together, most notably REI with its “Opt Outside” campaign, a social campaign encouraging people to forget the shopping and explore the outdoors. “By understanding that people want to feel good about themselves and better than other people, then the Opt Outside campaign makes sense,” Stillman says. “It’s another way people can feel superior. It’s good to be outside, but it’s even better to be outside and look down on people who are shopping on Black Friday.” “It sounds cynical,” Stillman admits, “but I think there’s truth to it.”
What about Cyber Monday?
Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving and the day of deals for online retailers, has grown in popularity in recent years. Stillman says the increased popularity all comes down to consumers’ personalities. “The single most important personality difference in people is introvert and extrovert,” says Stillman. “So for people who like to be out and about shopping and socializing, Black Friday is perfect.” However, not everyone responds to that, Stillman notes, so Cyber Monday becomes the introvert’s version of Black Friday.
Now that you know the reasons you can’t resist, consider alternatives, such as donating clothes (especially coats) to needy families, hosting a post Thanksgiving potluck, or visiting the local animal shelter. These are ways to replace scarcity with abundance, resist popular culture and still feel superior!