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The psychology of Black Friday

Nov 29,2017
Black Friday is the biggest shopping day in the United States. People camp out, wait in line and dash to the stores as soon as the doors open to score a deal. This year’s Black Friday on Nov. 24 was not as extensive as previous years, but shoppers still gathered at department stores and shopping malls. Lord & Taylor in New York City offered $20 gift cards to the first 500 people in line.

Black Friday has been the subject of various studies. While 20 percent discounts are frequently offered, some items are discounted by 60 percent or more. Psychologists have studied human behavior in this extreme shopping frenzy.

Sharon Lennon, a merchandising professor at Indiana University, noticed that some customers fight over items in other people’s carts and yell at store employees. She surveyed 189 shoppers with similar experiences and concluded that they acted in an abnormal way when they felt the situation to be inequitable. If someone cut the line or the limited supply ran out right in front of them, shoppers misbehaved. This tendency was most common among well-educated, Caucasian, female shoppers.

Professor Bridget Nichols at Northern Kentucky University published a paper that said shoppers experience “consumer competitive arousal” when the products on display are not sufficient and not all shoppers get to buy them. Black Friday shopping has “winners” and “losers,” and shoppers feel the competitive urgency. Professor Nichols also pointed out that shoppers consider shopping a game and share the result with other people to form stronger solidarity. The chats and postings online make the game ever more fun. In the end, the department stores and shopping malls that created the inequitable situations give most of the losers and their friends unfavorable impressions and get negative long-term damage to their reputation.

Partly reflecting this perception, the highlight of this year’s Black Friday shopping was online shopping, and especially mobile purchases. With Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and PayPal allowing easy transactions, and mobile shopping offering the easy sharing of photos, people no longer need to even turn on their desktop or laptop computers.

Professor Nichols advises shoppers seeking deals not to be disappointed, since the products that were not sufficiently supplied for the sale will be abundantly supplied in January, as always. Also, considering the Black Friday sale event as a game is falling into the scheme of the retailers. Korean shoppers who buy things they don’t need at discounted prices or are angry after failed purchases can take a cue.

JoongAng Ilbo, , Nov. 28, Page 34

*The author is New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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