A UBC marketing expert explains the psychology of the annual Black Friday shopping frenzy
Angry mobs, fistfights and even the occasional shooting have come to symbolize the mania that accompanies the door-crasher sales of Black Friday. The Friday following U.S. Thanksgiving Day is so named because it symbolizes the day retailers “get in the black,” or start turning a profit. JoAndrea Hoegg, associate professor in the UBC Sauder School of Business marketing and behavioural science division, explains how stores fuel a buying frenzy, and what consumers get out of it.
What tactics do stores use to incite consumer frenzy?
By having this very short-term, enormous sale, they elicit the notion of scarcity: You might not get it. It might run out. It’s a feeling that you might miss out, and research has shown that this incites competition. People have this desire to win, to beat everybody else. They don’t want to miss their chance.
That can lead to some positive things—it’s exciting for the consumer, it makes them feel good. But this competition can lead to higher aggression, and fights for the last toy on the shelf. It’s a visceral response.
What kind of person enjoys this type of shopping environment?
Some people think of this as a very social activity. They plan it with their friends or families. They agree to get there very early, and they make a whole day of it. They love it. It’s exciting and thrilling for them. These tend to not be the people that end up in this competitive, aggressive, panicky sort of mindset.
How long does the high last after this kind of buying frenzy?
For those people who see this as a fun, exciting thing they’ve planned well ahead, that do it as a yearly tradition, it can last a long time. They feel like they were smarter and more competent than other shoppers.
For the ones that end up buying a lot of things that they didn’t necessarily plan to, very quickly, after they get home, buyer’s remorse kicks in and there can be a lot of regret after the fact.
What’s in it for the stores? They have to stay open late, pay overtime, and they are selling things at huge discounts.
What got you in the door might be the loss leader, but once you’re there and you’re in the mindset, you’re much more likely to engage in other kinds of shopping, and that’s where they can make their money.
You’ve made this huge effort, you’ve stood in this line, and you’ve gotten up at this crazy hour to be there. You are in that really competitive mindset, so it’s very possible that you will buy a lot of other stuff, especially if you lose out on what you wanted to get.
The other advantage for retailers is that they’ve now moved the store environment into holiday mode. So all the decorations are up, and it gets people into a holiday mood, and starting to think about Christmas shopping.
For more on Black Friday, click here for a Q&A with Sauder professor Katherine White on how the annual frenzy runs counter to the positive consumer behaviours she studies.