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Why do we love a Bargain? The Psychology of Black Friday

This month marks one the biggest shopping days in the UK, Black Friday. 

Every year, Black Friday causes a surge of shoppers on the high-street and online, with retailers offering huge discounts and one-off deals. Though the current cost of living crisis means that spending forecasts are down for this year, the country’s total expenditure on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals is still expected to total £3.95 billion

On average, Brits will spend £189.59 this year – but why are we so compelled to spend on this day? The deals certainly help, but there are a few deeper psychological reasons why Black Friday creates a perfect storm of consumerism. 

Here, print and marketing operators Solopress outline five psychological principles that help to explain why we may get a little carried away with Black Friday deals.

  • We Love a ‘Deal’

Psychologists believe that shopping is strongly associated with our desire for a sense of empowerment and boosting self-esteem. Whenever we grab ourselves an amazing deal, studies show that we feel a strong sense of achievement; buying something at a price that’s lower than what you’re willing to pay, or lower than the standard price, is extremely satisfying, and the impulse to grab a bargain on Black Friday often outweighs rational thinking.

Some of this is down to clever marketing, which leads people to believe that Black Friday deals are better than they actually are – and that you can only enjoy these prices if you buy right away. In reality, sales happen all year round, and prices fluctuate over time.

  • FOMO

Black Friday marketing campaigns, sales, and offers, are all positioned as ‘limited-time offers’ and are only available for a finite period. this appeals to our cognitive bias called ‘Loss Aversion,’ – also known as anticipatory regret.

Loss Aversion refers to the fact that whenever we feel a sense of ownership over something (i.e., our entitlement to a big discount or an exclusive offer), we feel bereft when it is taken away from us. Therefore, because we are keen to avoid losing something in the first place, we are more likely to engage with a campaign that is positioned as finite.

Seasonal offerings appeal to our innate sense of urgency or Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) in the same way that social media does; if we don’t buy one now, we’ll have to wait until next year, or worse, never find it ever again! When there’s a sense of scarcity, it creates an urgency to buy. It also makes us feel as though an on-the-spot purchase might be a better bet than trying to find a better deal elsewhere.

Customers don’t want to miss the opportunity for a holiday only deal, so in order to assuage their psychological fear of missing out, they take action.

  • Momentum, momentum, momentum …

Words like “sale”, “deal” and “bargain” can trigger the natural reward systems in our brain; whenever these structures are activated, different groups of neurons are triggered, stimulating a pleasant feeling. This pleasant feeling is so strong that the parts of your brain that would naturally reign in your behaviour – and make you think about whether you really need something – become less active.

Tellingly, Black Friday shopping is more than an instant mood-booster. In fact, it also makes us more inclined to purchase further products too. There’s a phenomenon called ‘shopping momentum’, which occurs when a purchase provides a psychological impulse that encourages you to purchase a second, unrelated product. Shopping leads to more shopping.

  • Red is the new Black (Friday)

Whenever we walk into a shop or retail environment, we are confronted with lots of different stimuli that aim to trigger our desire to shop. This phenomenon is especially true on Black Friday.

Most Black Friday deals are advertised using the colour red, which, as well as capturing our attention, has developed certain emotional connotations over time. Red has been found to encourage appetite and create a sense of urgency, which is why it’s often used in fast-food and clearance sales. Moreover, in an experiment where red signs were used to advertise certain products at normal prices, those products sold more frequently even though there was no actual discount.

  • I Want to Break Free …

Many people shop simply because they’re looking for a way to get away from the stress of their jobs and everyday lives.

Psychology research has shown that people are either task- or socially-oriented. Task-oriented people are those who are motivated by getting jobs done, whereas socially-oriented people are those who are focused on making social connections with others.

While a task-oriented shopper will aim to get the items they need quickly and with the least amount of effort, socially-oriented shoppers enjoy the presence of others while they shop, and are energised by the presence of other consumers and enjoy the experience when there are others nearby.

For socially-oriented shoppers, Black Friday sales then become a form of ‘sensation-seeking’ for them, as it allows them to share the experience of shopping together with like-minded people.