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The Black Friday Madness and How to Avoid It

The fact that Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving is highly paradoxical. One day after people show their gratitude, have dinner with their family, and emphasize the importance of unity, the same individuals find themselves pushing and fighting with fellow shoppers over coveted products. The situation has become so dire that between 2006 and 2018 there has been 117 injuries and 12 deaths. As easy as it might be to simply deprecate people who are involved in these extreme activities, the truth is that we are cognitively primed to act this way. Although it is reasonable for people to take advantage of offered discounts, it is important to find a solution that addresses these aggressive activities. Accordingly, in order to achieve this purpose, we shall first probe into the factors that beget aggressive behaviour.


The Scarcity Mentality


It is an acknowledged fact that individuals will resort to aggression and violence when survival resources are in short supply, but the observed phenomenon is also true with regard to luxury goods that are sold in resource-rich environments. When communicating Black Friday offers as limited in time and availability, retailers stimulate a transition into scarcity mentality, which is characterized by the zero-sum paradigm. In other words, the shoppers perceive that a chosen product will be either theirs or others, causing an urge in consumers to ‘fight their way’ to get the prize. This occurrence is in line with the observations of evolutionary biology, and as we have mentioned in the previous articles, whenever a survival situation is evoked, the individual retorts back to his/her inherent mechanisms. In this case, the perception of a purchase as a means to survive triggers fight-or-die mentality. In addition, the primary reason behind the effectiveness of scarcity mentality is that it emphasizes loss-aversion, whereby the incentive to act is accentuated.


The Duality of Ownership


Psychological ownership has a dual aspect – individual and territorial. As illustrated in Figure 1, once consumers feel psychological ownership, the receptiveness to acts of infringement increases, and if the infringement is seen as a threat to ownership, aggressive responses arise.

Figure 1.

Psychology research suggests that the perception of ownership arises not only from the physical acquisition, but also the simple imagination of it. In the context of Black Friday, whilst waiting for the retailer to open the doors, the consumer has already acquired a sense of ownership due to the pre-consideration of which products to buy. In addition, the territorial ownership, i.e. socially constructed form of ownership that arises when one’s psychological ownership is signified to other people, induces the consumer to focus on maintaining and restoring his/her attachment to the product. Consequently, when the shoppers go for the same product once the doors open, an infringement of ownership that induces the consumer to take either anticipatory or reactionary defence is perceived.


Anticipatory defences arise from a fear of infringement and they intend to block future access to the product, such as hiding it at a certain place before Black Friday. Reactionary defences, however, originate from anger and are utilised to express negativity while reclaiming ownership. For instance, after the cognitive ownership, if another customer gets to the product first, the reactionary defences permit actions including grabbing the item using force, robbing, and physical and verbal assault. Thus, viewed through the lens of defence techniques, the seemingly inexplicable actions of consumers become congruent, allowing us to gain an insight into the unknowns of consumer behaviour.


A Simple Yet Effective Solution


The solution to the problem arises from the identification of the underlying cause: misperception. Individuals tend to misperceive the desired item as their own; therefore, fellow customers are regarded as competing enemies who threaten ownership, and an urge to fight is triggered. In addition, seeing others waiting in front of the doors prompts scarcity mentality. Hence, adding a layer-element that makes delusional thinking salient will considerably alleviate the problem. It is of no coincidence that selling products behind glasses and providing online solutions do not translate into such madness. However, the grim reality is that since retailers benefit from generating these cues, it is highly unlikely that any of the proposed solutions will be implemented.


Further Readings:


Darke, R. P. and Dahl, W. D. (2003). Fairness and Discounts: The Subjective Value of a Bargain. Journal of Consumer Psychology13(3), pp. 328-338.


Deng, Y., Staelin, R., Wang, W. and Boulding, W. (2018). Consumer sophistication, word-of-mouth and False promotions. Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organization152, pp. 98-123.


Lennon, J. S., Kim, M., Lee. J. and Johnson, P. K. K. (2018). Consumer Emotions on Black Friday: Antecedents and Consequence. Journal of Research for Consumers32, pp. 70-109.

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