Shopper Mobs: The Dark Side of ‘Black Friday’

The New York Times: “What turns ordinary shoppers into dangerous mobs? Social scientists and psychologists are trying to find out. Sharron Lennon, a professor in the merchandising program at Indiana University, became interested in studying consumer misbehavior after seeing news reports a few years back about fights breaking out at her local mall … Dr. Lennon speculates that feelings of unfairness drove many of these shoppers to behave the way they did. Shopping and the retail-consumer relationship, she said, is expected to be an equitable exchange of a good for payment. Any violation of the exchange can evoke strong feelings of inequality.”

“When a store failed to properly stock advertised ‘doorbusters,’ when sale prices weren’t honored, such as being denied an early bird discount at checkout even though they were in line before the sale expired, or when they failed to obtain an advertised item or failed to receive the discounts they anticipated, Black Friday shoppers were most likely to misbehave. In a follow-up study, Dr. Lennon … found that those who felt other customers were being ‘unpleasant’ were more likely to feel the store was being unfair — and were more likely to become uncivil themselves.”

“Perceptions of scarcity are also a driving factor in consumer misbehavior, said Bridget Nichols, an associate professor of marketing and sports business at Northern Kentucky University. When consumers feel a product is scarce, they value it more. And Black Friday is designed to offer limited amounts of products for a limited amount of time, thus heightening the sense of urgency, she said … Sharing the Black Friday ritual with friends and family can create a similar sense of tribal bonding, Dr. Nichols said, and reinforce bad behavior.”

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