I used to take advantage of "Black Friday" deals in the past. But after watching a mob crush towards a counter separating them from their must have, desired items; I reconsidered my decision to venture out on Black Friday. That frenzied mob was massed against the counter and frantic employees behind the counter began throwing boxes out to the crowd. It must have been frightening for them to face that group of people rushing them. I just could not understand the crazy need to have that "stuff" and behave that way to get it. I stood back and observed from a safe distance. Why subject myself to that insane situation? I felt sorry for the employees. I have since boycotted going to these sales.
The internet and news reports now have annual accountings of shopping behaviors escalating into brawls, fist fights, and even stealing from each others shopping carts. With cameras everywhere these days, we now have an opportunity to see the behaviors of shoppers just about anywhere. There's many instances of total mayhem, with brutish, animalistic behaviors. All over materialistic stuff that really doesn't matter much later on. This growing mob behavior seemed to be more common in the US, but this year, videos of the mobs trampling over each other and fighting in the UK has revealed the global nature of this situation.
What is the science and psychology behind this behavior? Why do typically rational people change and behave in such a manner? What causes them to kick, punch, shove and even stab or stun gun each other over a Black Friday Special?
An article from The Independent provides some insight.
Primal instincts are triggered in certain situations. Everyone has "hardwiring" for violence given the right situation. What is it about Black Friday, that sets the stage for violence and mob mentality?
It's about obtaining a valuable reward. We are highly motivated to gain this reward. Black Friday offers "bargains" as the
"reward". Consumers are very motivated by the bargains because price reductions are seen as a "gain". It's getting something for nothing.
There are other motivators behind getting "the deal". It's exciting. It permits people to have things and enjoy them when they normally could not. People will go to great lengths to have a chance to get a reward. I am sure you have seen the images of people camped outside the stores, often days in advance, even in horrible weather. All driven by the chance to get "the reward".
Ironically, people are so driven to get a "reward", they buy stuff they don't even need, just because it was a good deal. An interview of a UK shopper Illustrates this. When she could not get what she originally came for, she grabbed a Dyson vacuum, simply because she wanted to "have" something.
“I got a Dyson but I don’t even know if I want it. I just picked it up,” Louise Haggerty, a 56-year-old hairdresser and waitress, said of her 1am trip to the Black Friday sales. “It was mental in there. It was crazy. It was absolutely disgusting, disgusting.” (source: theguardian.com)
Another condition adding fuel to the frenzy is "competition". Competition happens when a limited number of products are offered at heavy discounts. Typically, these are called "Doorbuster" items. Ironically, the term "doorbuster" is no longer simply a metaphor...as there are videos of mobs actually breaking down doors to be among the first to enter the store and find their limited resource goal. Deep discounts and a limited number of items raises the tensions and competition among individuals who are seeking the same limited resources. One shopper's gain will be another shopper's loss. That's a psychological zero-sum game. This all results in very classic, violence inducing conditions. There is such massive competition for a very limited number of resources that those resources obtain a very high value. Scarcity seems to increase desirability.
Typically, human behavior is restrained and controlled by social norms. Such primal behaviors are usually tempered by laws and social mores. Whether violent behavior is promoted or prevented depends on the absence or presence of norms.
One norm connected with scarce resources is the "line up". Rules of "line up" are typically a socially agreed upon norm that prevents a "free for all", and as a result, maintains order and suppresses violence. However, with certain conditions, the line up norm can also bring about violence. Those who don't abide by the "norms" will degrade the situation. One example is the "butt in person", the one who "takes cuts". This violation of norm is so disturbing, that even the person in front of the violator gets upset. Violence comes about as a way of protecting the "norm". However, the way Black Friday sales are conducted, the norm no longer holds when the "doors are opened". At that point it becomes a "free for all". Unfortunately, merchants' practices of providing limited resources and creating "fanfare" at door opening simply encourages and optimizes "free for all" behavior and mayhem. Mob mentality can also rule, where people justify loosening of moral standards when they see everyone else acting like brutes — it's called pluralistic ignorance,
According to an article on thewire.com, there are chemical brain changes with the availability of coupons and discounts. The rituals associated with Black Friday shopping are exciting with arousal and presentation of challenge. The brain is actually more stimulated by Black Friday shopping than by typical shopping. The Black Friday shopping experience is viewed as a desired activity. While brawling and mayhem may make the news, a great number of these bargain shoppers are actually well behaved during their shopping experience.
Personally, I have shunned brick and mortar stores on Black Friday and the holiday weekend. I have absolutely NO desire to become part of the masses of humanity, some behaved and some not so behaved. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is worth brawling over, shoving and fighting. I refuse to be manipulated by the psychological games involved in limited resource availability and sales. I do however, shop for discounts, but from the comfort of my home via cybershopping.
Cybershopping has become more appealing and there are many good offers to take advantage of. Online discounts and free shipping, many offered by merchants with local brick and mortar stores, are very attractive. No stress, no fuss, with items delivered to your home. I don't have to disturb my Thanksgiving Day, get up insanely early, use gas, compete for a parking spot, stand in line to get in the store, bump into people in the store, try to work my way around throngs of people and shopping carts, and then be disappointed if they are sold out of what I came for. I don't have to stand in line to pay and fight traffic to get home. I won't be tired out, my feet won't hurt. I have permanently checked out of the crazy experience and mobs and I shop from home.
It's good to know you have the option of choice. Choice to physically shop, choice to cybershop and choice to not shop at all! It's not a bad idea to re-evaluate your shopping and gift giving habits. Is mindless consumption something you really want to participate in? Do you practice minimalist living? Do you evaluate every purchase for purpose, need vs want and make you own logical decisions that are not driven by advertising, marketing and outside influences. Exercise independence in your shopping habits to find what works for you and is in your best interests. And don't forget, the bill will be coming in January. By then, the excitement of getting the deal will have worn off....