Black Friday has become synonymous with frantic shopping and South Africa local retailers have definitely seized the opportunity to make it the biggest shopping day of the year.
According to BankservAfrica 4.7 million card transaction were processed on Black Friday 2017. However, there are also increased concerns about violence, aggression and even looting. Black Friday has the potential of creating chaos, drama and the exploitation of customers and their financial and emotional weaknesses.
Ramping up excitement
South African retailers have been ramping up excitement for this year’s Black Friday, enticing shoppers with “bargains of the year” and “the deal of a lifetime”.
From a human behaviour perspective however, we need to ask why it is that we are so easily swayed to purchase things that we do not need, with money we do not have?
In effect, it comes down to three things that, when combined, ideally position us for excessive shopping: low willpower, heightened anticipation, and social influence.
Everyone has a “resource centre” of willpower. We can call it self-control, or an ability to resist temptation, but it is really about how we are able to resist or delay an impulse to act. If we are low on this resource, we are more likely to act on an impulse even if we know - in the moment - that we will regret it in the long run.
It is like having a piece of chocolate cake in the fridge. If you are low on willpower you are more likely to eat it, even if you know you will regret it when you get onto the scale tomorrow morning.
The reality is that at the end of November, most South Africans will tell you that their emotional resources are depleted and that they feel tired and overwhelmed, even depressed, and definitely in need of some reward and excitement.
Heightened excitement and anticipation
If we couple low willpower with the increased excitement and anticipation created by the Black Friday campaigns, we are very likely to have potential shoppers with an excess of dopamine production in the brain.
Why is this relevant? Dopamine is the powerful neurotransmitter that forms the core of addiction. Its levels are boosted when pleasure is experienced.
In fact, neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky found in his research with monkeys, that dopamine levels in the brain increased with the heightened anticipation of receiving a treat when a bar is pushed several times after a signal is given.Furthermore, he found that the levels increased even more in the face of unpredictability – that is the uncertainty that the treat is guaranteed when the bar is pushed.
Applying this research to the concept of Black Friday: There is the “anticipation overload” due to the bombardment of advertisements about the “specials”, coupled with uncertainty whether you will find the items you want, if there is going to be enough stock or if it is going to be on sale at all.
For humans this also translates into higher dopamine levels that will create a buzz of excitement and deplete the levels of self-control to resist the temptation of the bargain bin even more.
People with low willpower and a heightened anticipation of being rewarded with the bargain of the year who find themselves in stores on Black Friday are easily caught up in the rush of excitement of people grabbing, pushing and shoving.
The scarcity concept and competitive mindset activation with phrases such as ‘limited stock available’ and ‘promotion will end at …’ should not be underestimated. Shoppers do not want to be left out or lose out and may easily purchase goods just because everyone else is doing so.
Stop being swayed
The best advice – especially when you have low levels of willpower - is to avoid the shops on Black Friday.
If that is not possible, set clear goals on what it is you want. Make a list of items, budget what you are going to spend and stick to it.
Leave your credit card and cell phone at home.
In this case BFF does not mean Black Friday is your Best Friend Forever.
By Dr Renate Scherrer, MD at JvR Consulting Psychologists