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Are we hard-wired to look for those Black Friday deals?

Nov 25, 2014

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it comes Black Friday – one of the largest shopping days of the year.

Many stores begin Black Friday by opening their doors to shoppers at the crack of dawn, and even more have begun to open to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day itself.

To examine what goes into this shopping mania, we talked to University of Michigan marketing professors Scott Rick and Aradhna Krishna.

With so many swarms of people and strange hours, it's a wonder people are still willing to take part in Black Friday. Rick says that part of the appeal comes from Black Friday becoming a family tradition for many, and he says everyone loves a deal.

Even with "Cyber Monday," a day for online deals that allows people to stay home, many people still want to take part in the chaos of shopping in person. Krishna says this might be due to online shopping's perceived lack of control in the experience. She says shoppers crave the excitement of the physical experience and the competition that comes with it. 

Krishna says shoppers feel a greater sense of victory by the competition created when shopping in person. Many retailers have begun to use this idea to attract shoppers by offering deals to only a limited number of shoppers who get there first.

With stores opening at dawn becoming mainstream, many stores have also begun to advertise times in the middle of the night to make them more eye catching. Krishna says these extreme opening times can add to the excitement of the experience. She says people feel special getting to be at a store that normally wouldn't be open. 

A study done by Rick examined the brain scans of people making purchases. The study provided neural evidence that showed psychological distress when spending money. Rick calls it the "pain of paying." He says the signals are found in the same region of the brain that shows distress when people are being mean to you.

Rick says we might be wired to work hard to get a deal.

*You can listen to our conversation with Rick and Krishna above.

– Katrina Shafer, Michigan Radio Newsroom