Black Friday is interesting purely because it motivates people to buy stuff they have absolutely no need for. What governs that kind of psychology? I’m sure we are all guilty of it to some degree.
Well, neuroscience suggests one theory. There is a part of the human brain called the striatum, which relates to impulsivity. This tends to be activated by stimuli associated with reward. So simply seeing more attractive product packaging – or being drawn towards a clever product marketing campaign – can trigger us into making an impulsive buy.
That in itself is not so surprising. What is more intriguing is how we rationalise our impulsive purchases. And then how we relate to that item once we have taken ownership of it. Does it become more prized, or more devalued, because it came with bargain status?
Anecdotal evidence, year in, year out, suggests many shoppers go home disappointed with little to show for their efforts. Now is that down to the quality of the product? Or because the reality (the prize) didn’t quite live up to the expectation (the chase)? Or simply, because we have burdened ourselves with yet more stuff?
The lesser known Buy Nothing Day – held on the same day as Black Friday – suggests there is a smudge of growing disillusionment with our fixation on consumerism, but it has failed to catch on. Or rather, scale up. Critics of Buy Nothing argue it just puts our material desires on hold for a day, rather than clamping down on consumerism for good. Black Friday still beats Buy Nothing hands down.
Buy Nothing might soon win some friends, however. It ties in neatly with the emerging sharing economy; peer-to-peer transactions built more around relationships than finance. And the sharing economy is gaining weight – we now have our first government inquiry into it (hurrah). And our first trade body for it (double hurrah). At least in the UK.
The stark reality is however, that overconsumption is here to stay. As long as we can get away with it. It’s a luxury to indulge, we all like a guilty pleasure, we are just wired that way. It also benefits the economy. It would even benefit a circular economy.
Should we feel bad about this? Perhaps. Should we be surprised about it? No.