The most anticipated shopping day of the year is this Friday and buyers across the United States will brave the early morning lines to get those hard-to-resist deals, ushering in the holiday season. Considered the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday has become the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S. in recent years.
Dr. Tyler Stillman, associate professor of management and marketing at Southern Utah University, studies consumer behavior—the psychology behind buying and selling—and shares the top three reasons why, as hard as we try, we just can’t pass up the allure of Black Friday deals.
The first is scarcity. Consumers respond to scarcity because they view it as being worth more.
“Retailers have long understood that scarcity works, exploiting the fact buyers have a built-in desire to buy hard-to-come-by products like ‘limited editions’ or ‘available for a limited time’ deals. The reason Black Friday is so effective is, in part, because it’s one day of deep discounts, which instantly makes it a scarce resource."
The second reason is culture. According to Dr. Stillman, people are deeply and thoroughly cultural beings, meaning everything we do is somehow related to who we are as a society.
“Black Friday has become a major American cultural event, pulling in those who might not otherwise be interested in shopping, just for the sake of it being part of the current American trend. Think about the Super Bowl. It is a huge cultural event that attracts people who don’t even like football. Black Friday is the same.”
Dr. Stillman explains that the third reason is superiority. Consumers love to get the best deal.
“The old understanding of self-esteem was simply knowing that people want to feel good about themselves. And that’s true as far as it goes but in this age, it doesn’t go far enough; we don’t just want to feel good about ourselves, we want to feel superior to other people. The satisfaction we get from finding a big deal has more to do with feeling superior than it does with self-esteem. It feels good to find an amazing deal on a TV, but it feels even greater to snag a better deal than someone else.”
Meanwhile, many retailers have decided to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day or ditch the Black Friday concept altogether, most notably REI with its “Opt Outside” campaign, a social campaign encouraging people to forget the shopping and explore the outdoors.
“By understanding that people want to feel good about themselves and better than other people, then the Opt Outside campaign makes sense. It’s another way people can feel superior. It’s good to be outside, but it’s even better to be outside and look down on people who are shopping on Black Friday. It sounds cynical, but I think there’s truth to it.”
Dr. Stillman has been featured in articles by Allure Magazine and The New York Times and has published over 35 academic research articles in various journals and publications across the country. He is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit his profile.
Tyler Stillman Associate Professor of Marketing / Director of Entrepreneurship
Specializing in judgment and decision making, social psychology, buyer behavior, and entrepreneurship