We Like to Fight, Coupon, and Wait; Ergo, We Love Black Friday

For those great Americans who have already decided to forego the warmth of Thanksgiving and instead form a queue in front of their favorite big-box reseller, there’s a massive spoiler: Black Friday doesn’t have the best deals of the year (or even of the season for that matter). For the rest of us, who enjoy our autumnal turkey feast unmarred by GREAT SAVINGS and DOORBUSTERS, it’s difficult to understand the rationale behind the line-sitting others. As it turns out, science is at the root of it all or more specifically the psychology of loving a good fight, a great deal, and a long wait.

Coupons make us relaxed and happy, according to a new study out of Claremont Graduate University. It doesn’t matter how much the coupon really is for, the effect is the same: and increase in Oxytocin in the brain (All things cuddle chemical here). Dr. Paul Zak, Professor of Neuroeconomics at Claremont Graduate University, gave a group of female shoppers a 10 dollar coupon and found higher oxytocin levels, lower heart rate, relaxed breathing, less sweating, and generally higher levels of happiness. On Black Friday, the abundance of coupons makes all our brains go haywire, even if it’s for things we neither want nor need.

Waiting for most people is complete and total torture. But the hours (or days) spent shivering outside aren’t really considered waits to deal-seekers. The entire phenomenon is treated as tradition and ritual, which means that the wait is just the prerequisite to the reward. The same psychology is present in those folks who wait in line at the Apple store before a new device comes out or those who hang around movie premieres for the midnight showing. A study out of Winthrop University found that those in line find ritual under the following four themes: “familial bonding, strategic planning, the great race, and mission accomplished.” Which is to say, just like some families might get together and eat turkey, others might scan the flyers for the best deals, make a plan of attack, and stop at nothing to get their deals.

Black Friday sales are designed to appear like the deals wont last and supplies are scarce. When a crowd of people who believe this gather outside a store to wait for hours, they no longer are a group of friendly holiday shoppers but become fierce competitors in a shopping royale. Research from Auburn University shows that the competition makes shoppers feel good and increases the value of the item they’re shopping for. The DOORBUSTER TV might not be all that great but when there are 200 people vying for 5 units, it seems like the most important thing in the world. The scarcity and competition plays with shoppers creating really devastating excitement that has lead to the death of shoppers and workers.

There is justification for the seemingly insane tendencies of Black Friday shoppers, but if it remains beyond your acceptance, you can just sit in your underwear and participate in Cyber Monday.


The Atlantic
The Wall Street Journal

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