Every year I find it amazing the changes to rational consumer behaviour on Black Friday. Retailers seemingly use heavy discounts and promotional tactics that ultimately bring out the worst of humankind. We’ve all seen the images of hordes of ferocious shoppers, wrestling each other to get a flat screen TV..
Alot has been written about how businesses can capitalise on Black Friday and seize the season of gift giving. However, it’s not about how businesses and retailers can make the most of Black Friday. Instead, it should be about understanding why people are motivated to hit the stores at that particular time.
How is it that on this particular day of the year, consumers abandon all civility and exhibit a sense of greed? The answer is evolutionary. People are reverting to primal tendencies, exhibiting the conscious and unconscious motivation to survive. Their biology, behaviours, emotions and sense of self-control are all working in service to ensure “survival”. Black Friday isn’t about the things people want. It’s about the things people need.
Here are the three reasons Black Friday is actually about survival:
The fear of scarcity
In some ways shopping is like hunting and gathering. The moment a resource seems unavailable, we are hardwired to want it more, for the sake of survival. The more limited it seems, the more we are willing to sacrifice rationality to get it. Retailers know this, often portraying a false sense of scarcity that gets people shopping like they’re preparing for a natural disaster. By promoting shortages, they’re creating an artificial urgency that gets us wanting more.
The threat to fairness
Humans, like all animals, have a desire for fairness. We are predisposed to value our greatest advantage over anyone else’s. So when we see a seemingly unbelievable deal, say, a 52” flat screen TV for £200, we can’t help but buy it even if we already have a TV. Black Friday deals are so blunt that they assure us that we’re not paying an unfair price at some other time. If we know someone else is paying less for the same stuff, it feels deeply violating and against our primal drive. Black Friday arouses our competitive spirit. The only thing people care about as much as their stuff is justice.
The sense of belonging
In nature, the way to ensure survival is to be part of a group. Eating, sleeping, hunting and traveling as a group provides a sort of peace of mind when it comes to survival. Humans need to belong. We feel safe when we are part of a group, and threatened even, when we are on the outside. Black Friday press suggests everyone is engaging in one specific behaviour – hunting for deals. As a result, we adopt that same behaviour to stay in sync with the greater group.