Black Friday: how your mind reacts to consumption stimulus

Find out what induces impulse buying and learn how to avoid pitfalls and resist the temptation of buying something you really don’t need.

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Are you emotionally prepared for the bombardment of offers on Black Friday at the end of November? It might seem like a joke, but it is essential to be aware of your emotions in this type of situation. There are numerous conscious and unconscious psychological influences that affect people’s consumption decisions, especially on this type of occasion. The retail business knows this and bombards potential buyers with tempting adverts and well-trained and insistent salespersons.

To avoid making unnecessary purchases and spending beyond your means, it is important to understand how your mind reacts to the stimuli associated with Black Friday, which promises unmissable discounts and special offers before Christmas when most people have just received their 13th salary (an “extra” monthly salary paid to most employees in Brazil usually at the end of the year). It’s great to be able to take advantage of the sales to buy something that you really need. But be careful not to succumb to the temptations of consumption – it can be bad for you, society, and the environment.

Retailers induce consumers to purchase by using enticing stimuli that we do not consciously register. These tactics derive from the field of behavioral economics, which uses psychology to model consumer decision-making processes. By recognizing some of these time-tested strategies, we can avoid being taken in by these stimuli.

“Consumer decision-making is influenced by tiredness, laziness and other conditions. Using SELF-KNOWLEDGE, consumers can develop strategies to guard against temptations”, explains the economist Flávia Ávila, who has been studying this topic for the last 15 years. Flávia, who is the founder of the consultancy firm InBehaviourLab and coordinates Brazil’s first post-graduate program and MBA in Behavioral Economics at the Superior School of Advertising and Marketing, talked to Instituto Akatu about this topic.

Flávia explains that when making a purchase we should activate the more “rational” part of the brain. Referring to the work of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, Flávia explains that the human mind uses two systems when making decisions: one is fast, automatic, and intuitive, while the other is slower, more deliberative, and rational and requires concentration.

Both play a very important role in our lives. Our intuitive and spontaneous side is essential for human survival – and is responsible for fast, almost immediate reactions in response to an external event. It is the kind of impulse that makes you spontaneously withdraw your hand from a hot surface, for example. But, since it is constantly “connected” to our surroundings, the “fast” system also responds to stimuli like those around Black Friday, leading to impulse buying.

Pausing for reflection triggers the rational part of the brain, which brings a new perspective to what is really happening. Is this offer so unmissable? Getting to know the selling strategies helps you to recognize induced sensation.

Learn to identify some of the behaviors that lead us to make unnecessary purchases. By recognizing them, you will be better able to avoid unintended consequences. Here are some examples:



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When a person does not know what to do, he/she follows the crowd and tends to do what the others are doing, says Flávia Ávila. “Nonthinking consumers go with the flow. They see everyone buying, and want to buy as well.”

One of the reasons why people follow others is fear of missing out. “People like to show that they have taken advantage of a special offer, that they got the best buy”, says Flávia. If all our friends, family and work colleagues are talking about Black Friday, our natural reaction is to follow the “herd”.

So, if you want to avoid making unnecessary purchases, be careful not to get carried along by the crowd. Just because the shop is full and everyone has their hands full with shopping bags, doesn’t mean that the special offer is really worthwhile and you have to buy. It’s likely they’re buying on impulse too.



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Different types of pressure can induce unnecessary purchases. Sales assistants capitalize on this when they suggest that the item you are looking at is the “last one in stock”. Shopping with children can also pressure consumers to make a purchase without thinking it through properly, since they can divert your attention away. In such cases, it is better to take a pause to relieve the pressure. When in doubt, leave the store.

Remember that you don’t owe the sales assistant anything, even if he/she is helpful and pleasant. If you are not interested, thank him/her and leave the store calmly, proud of the fact you haven’t made any unnecessary purchases.

When it comes to online purchases, beware of countdown timers that place pressure on the customer to make a purchase by putting a time constraint on them. Remember that this kind of pressure is usually artificial and is used to get you to buy without thinking.



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Have you ever been attracted by a Black Friday ad on social media and when you are about to pay you realize that the product is no longer available? You’ve spent ages navigating, so you decide to buy something else so as not to “waste the trip”. This type of behavior can end up leading to unnecessary purchases.

It may seem obvious, but it is still worth remembering that you can simply leave the store, shopping mall, market, or online store empty-handed. The money you could have spent on something you don’t need can be saved for a rainy day or used to buy something you really do need.



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“Unmissable offer, buy now!!”. On Black Friday, retailers create a sense of “urgency” to entice consumers into taking impulsive purchasing decisions, hastily. Seeking instant gratification from the pleasure of buying can lead to unnecessary purchases.

So before buying, ask yourself the following question: is this purchase really worthwhile or am I being led to believe that it’s a bargain? If you actually need the product, compare prices and wait for the right moment to make the purchase at a price that really is a bargain. If you don’t compare the price of the product, you can’t be certain that the discount is worthwhile.

A useful tip is to use online tools that alert customers when the price drops to a predefined level. Various sites offer this service for products ranging from electronic goods and shoes to flights.



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A good “excuse” for getting the credit card out on Black Friday is “I can make a purchase, just this once”. This mentality is similar to that of people who stray from the diet by eating sweets and other goodies – they step out of line for a day, but end up going too far.

So to avoid “just this once” getting out of hand, check whether the discount is actually as good as it seems and make the purchase only if you really feel it’s worthwhile. Conscious consumption should be a permanent habit. And, particularly on Black Friday, this awareness is especially important to remind yourself that buying unnecessary stuff at half the price can end up being very expensive!!!

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