Advance Performance | The Psychology of the Hype on Black Friday in the USA
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The Psychology of the Hype on Black Friday in the USA

The Psychology of the Hype on Black Friday in the USA

Today is Black Friday, ironically also the morning after Thanksgiving – a day dedicated to gratitude is followed by annual queues outside stores at 5 a.m., stampedes of competitive shoppers, and even consumers attacking other sales “rivals” to grab the best bargains!

What causes the hype and competitive behaviour as consumers on Black Friday in the USA?

During the past few years, consumer psychologists have reported some very interesting research findings on the behaviour of the competitive shoppers on Black Friday, and why they become involved, and why they adopt such extreme behaviour on that shopping day.

Tradition of family or friends gathering socially – planning to attend certain department or big brand stores, and visiting the mall, selecting the shops to visit – form an annual day out to share with your loved ones.
Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University explained in an article in Popular Science this week: “A lot of people are put together with people who they wouldn’t normally socialize with. Sometimes going shopping is the only thing that everyone can agree on. It’s something everyone can do. There’s kind of a family ritual. There’s this festive campout spirit of camaraderie that dissolves after the last Xbox is grabbed.

Habit – people behave as they always have done in the past. It’s their mindset to join in the sales (as we have been conditioned to participate in Boxing Day sales and even Christmas Eve and Christmas Day sales in recent years). As we discuss on our Advance courses, our subconscious is led by our “Taxi driver” – our autopilot – so if we have always participated in sales for a certain occasion we automatically will plan to take part the following year. Black Friday is so hyped as THE annual sales day in the USA that it has become a habit for millions of Americans already gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The desire to win – Dr. Bridget Nichols, an associate professor of marketing and sports business at Northern Kentucky University reports this week that “consumer competitive arousal” is “driven by the emotions that are drawn from scarcity and competition.” Advertising campaigns for Black Friday centre on limited supply and a limited time. When your child wants the toy of the year for Christmas and a limited supply is available on that day, it sparks the competitive parent who MUST win the product for their child.

Just like with the habit of behaving the same way each year, our Gestalt wins through, and we justify our actions in a sale when we are told every year that products are scarce. We conveniently forget the products will be in abundance on the shelves in January!

The hedonism of being a part of the event – The enthusiasm, excitement, and the competitive consumer behaviour are all contagious when we participate in a major event with hordes of people which reaches a peak for shoppers in the USA on Black Friday. The advertising is aimed to excite the public, and entice them to arrive early in case they miss out on the scarce offers which results in the hedonistic scenes of stampedes, shoppers grabbing items from other people, pushing competitors out of their way, and even attacking staff or consumers in their bid to “win.”

The rush of dopamine when the shoppers make that purchase – we have discussed the release of endorphins when we feel happy on our Advance courses. The neurotransmitter dopamine surges when we’re considering buying something new—anticipating a reward, and in the case of Black Friday, when the consumer makes that successful purchase with a reward of that scarce item at a “bonus” reduced price, causing that surge of dopamine which makes them feel happy – and like a winner.

When you watch this year’s hordes of shoppers queueing outside the US stores, and running down the aisles to grab their electronic gadgets, toys, and designer clothes at reduced prices, remember these individuals are all behaving as they have been conditioned over the years! Their dendrites for shopping on Black Friday are strong!


**Image from this video of shoppers waiting for the midnight opening of Urban Outfitters at the Thousand Oaks Mall in California, Nov 25th 2011.

For further reading on how you can start your own positive Thanksgiving tradition read our article from last year:

A Time To Start Your Own Thanksgiving Tradition