Black Friday, that notorious day that represents the pinnacle of our consumerist ways, has crept around again for another day of bedlam. While we all know the considerable effect Black Friday has on shopping and buying behaviour worldwide, few of us know the specific effects that holiday shopping events or 'Sales Holidays' have on the decision-making systems of the brain.
Firstly, 'Sales Holidays' offer the possibility of large discounts and an associated hype about special deals and sales. This generates a large reward anticipation response for consumers/customers. We also know that this type of reward anticipation activates key areas of the brain related to appetitive learning states – put simply, neurobiological states that are linked to behaviours aimed at acquiring more of something.
In addition to the offering of discounts and special deals, there is also the associated time-sensitive component of a 'Shopper Holiday' – usually, only one day or a few hours to shop, which in turn heightens the brain systems involved in reward and reward anticipation.
Some of the behavioural outcomes associated with the aforementioned activated reward circuit, in response to anticipatory purchase decisions, discounts and special deals include:
1. More impulsive purchases
2. Less likely to consider the long-term objectives/needs of a purchase decision
3. Potentially greater post-purchase cognitive dissonance (potential tension and uncertainty after the purchase)
4. Less likely to consider their own financial limitations/constraints and therefore potentially overextend themselves
Fear of missing out or FoMO may be another psychological factor at play during Black Friday. There is little research on FoMO at current, but it has become an important marketing strategy and is gaining interest for psychologists and marketers. Przybylski and colleagues (2013) defined FoMO as: "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent...the desire to stay continually connected to what others are doing." FoMO as a behavioural factor, may influence consumers during ‘sales holidays’. FoMO includes the apprehension that others may be having a rewarding experience that one is absent from. It is a psychological trait that all humans possess, to a varying degree. Marketers can use this to their advantage by creating messages that trigger people’s innate fear of missing out to get them to take action or make a purchase. For example, this is done through making remaining stock levels visible, highlighting missed opportunities, and showing the number of people who also bought a product.
Since Black Friday is already an established yearly event it is easy for retailers to create the sense in consumers that they should not miss out on this year’s deals. Besides marketers actively trying to convince consumers they are missing out; social media also plays a large role in triggering FoMO responses. A person who isn’t convinced by advertising to get out and shop may still end up in a retail store because they saw a friend post a picture wearing trendy new clothes and bragging about how much money they saved on the outfit.
We would recommend that consumers be aware of the various behavioural and psychological effects of the various marketing strategies implemented during a 'Sales Holiday', such as Black Friday, to better understand the impact that these have on their own behaviour. Armed with this knowledge, they may be less likely to throw inhibitions to the wind and get swept up with the impulsive behaviours of fellow discount dashers.