In 2019 alone, British consumers spent a whopping total of £5.6 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A tradition originating from the United States, Black Friday marks the end of Thanksgiving celebrations and welcomes the beginning of the festive period. For many, this means it’s a critical time for buying gifts ahead of Christmas. Under pressure to please loved ones but not break the bank, many consumers take advantage of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to get those much sought after gifts. But what is it that’s so special about these days in particular? We all know people love a bargain, but the Black Friday and Cyber Monday craze runs deeper. In this piece, we’ll unpack the psychology behind the phenomenon, why it is one of the most successful dates in the retail calendar and how things are set to change this year amidst a global pandemic.

The need for a bargain stems from deep within our psyche – in fact it’s in our chemical make-up. Christian Elger, a German neuroscientist, explains how our brain reacts to different stimuli experienced over this period. The brain has structures known as the ‘reward system’ which houses the pleasure centre. When these structures are stimulated or triggered, a feeling of pleasure is experienced. This feeling is amplified when words such as ‘sale’, ‘deal’ or ‘discount’ are seen, and the rational part of our brains struggle to remain objective and figure out whether this purchase is necessary or not. The use of such words is magnified over cyber weekend which sends shopping habits into overdrive. Additionally, colour is also used to trigger this positive feeling in consumers. Ever seen a red ‘sale’ sign and immediately felt drawn in? That doesn’t happen by chance, it is in fact the pleasure centre in your brain being stimulated, encouraging you to follow the good feeling and this also rings true when these triggers are presented digitally, so we won’t escape the draw this year either.

Next up, let’s look at consumer behaviour. The ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ or FOMO is a huge factor in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Companies exploit this ‘scarcity principle’ and create artificial exclusivity by setting arbitrary limitations on stock to make their products appear to be in short supply. This generates a huge sense of urgency and makes consumers feel that they need to act immediately in order to save. Take Amazon for example, and their ‘Lightning Deal’ offers. These show customers how long for, and how many units are available at a discounted price. With just 10% of stock remaining and 8 mins 37 seconds to go, consumers are sure to feel the pressure to purchase before it’s too late. That FOMO feeling can also be heightened by a number of environmental factors. The increased media attention leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more social media use and even the timing of the event (at the end of the week and pay day for many) can all work to amplify the feeling that you’re missing out while others are taking advantage. How many times have you seen someone you follow on social media mention something they recently bought and thought ‘oh I’d like that too’, on Black Friday, with limited stock of so many products, the race is on to beat those other keyboard ninjas and win the prize.

Even your method of payment can have an impact on how your mind processes shopping activity. Paying by card, especially credit, fools the brain into thinking that you haven’t spent a penny, whereas when you hand over your hard earned cash, you feel a sense of physical loss and your brain registers what is happening. Paying by cash is also known to increase the buyers emotional attachment to their purchase, as opposed to paying by card. Physical distancing restrictions in place in shops, this year will mean more and more consumers are shopping online, making card payments the norm, which will potentially end up in more money being spent despite the pandemic and impending recession. As our move towards a cashless society has been accelerated this year, it will be interesting to see the effect this has on buying behaviour and if online shopping is set to take over for good.

Finishing up with a look to the future of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, organisations such as Forbes have projected a number of changes following this years’ pandemic. In 2020, with various restrictions in place across the UK, the face of this years’ event is sure to transform. One such change is the desire for sellers to spread this out their volumes of customers over a number of weeks rather than condense to a particular weekend. Amazon have already been seen to use this strategy by moving their ‘Prime Day’ from July to October 2020 for the first time, potentially to begin the ‘Black Friday’ festive shopping period a month and a half earlier than usual.

Having a deep understanding of consumer psychology is key to the success of any marketing strategy. Our programme here at Fabric will teach you how to place your consumer at the centre of your strategy, while also achieving those all-important business goals.

Like this? Sign up to our newsletter and get the latest tips, guides and advice delivered straight to your inbox.