We’ve all seen the Walmart Black Friday videos of people screaming, fighting and trampling one another to get the best bargains in this massive day after Thanksgiving sale. And it’s not just Walmart; the same can be seen in front of virtually any retailer when the doors open for Black Friday sales. But just what is the psychology behind this ravenous – and sometimes even murderous – need shoppers have to find bargains?
Economic Times Are Hard?
Some people would argue that the reason for the willingness of little old ladies to bash one another in the head over trinkets is that economic times are hard and that people want to get the most for their money. However, the economy right now is not as bad as it has been in prior years, so this doesn’t really seem to work as an explanation.
In addition, when we look back in history, even people during the Great Depression didn’t throw one another aside just to get into a store. So the Walmart Black Friday mania seems to be a product of our own times separate and apart from economic conditions.
Are Retailers Responsible?
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that across the United States, retailers like Walmart make a huge percentage of their yearly sales during the holiday season. According to the National Retail Federation, these sales can account for as much as 30 percent of their revenues. And Black Friday represents a good chunk of this percentage. Of course, too many sales on Black Friday could be bad.
Because of this, retailers do things that encourage people to show up for Black Friday. The Walmart Black Friday opening actually takes place at the stroke of midnight on Thursday. People are gathered at the door – often in freezing temperatures – ready to crash through and race down the aisles looking for something – they often don’t know precisely what – on sale.
Some stores even entice people by offering free snacks and refreshments as people enter. So it could be easily argued that – even if the stores are not responsible for people’s behavior on Black Friday – they at least encourage such behavior because of the positive effect it has on their revenues.
On the other hand, from both a legal and moral standpoint, it’s difficult to place the blame on Walmart or any other retailer, since they are doing what any business does – trying to make a profit. As Shakespeare might have put it, the fault lies not in our stores, but in ourselves.
Walmart Black Friday Psychology
There’s more to Black Friday behavior than meets the eye. All of the above explanations, from economic desperation to enticement by the retailers, are insufficient to explain the aggression, injuries and deaths associated with Black Friday events.
As discussed at Livescience, there is an underlying psychology motivating people to behave this way. Many experts have pointed out that the behaviors and responses observed in people engaged in a Walmart Black Friday frenzy closely resembles those of hunter gatherers.
For thousands of years, our ancestors hunted and gathered as though their lives depended on it – because they did. This meant that evolution and survival of the fittest would encourage those who put a maximum effort into such activities by helping to ensure their survival – versus those who stayed back at the cave and counted rocks.
There are obvious psychological switches being thrown to generate adrenaline, alertness and aggression in those who are racing up and down the aisles “hunting” for bargains they desperately have to have. However, since the things people after are things they don’t really need, it’s all pretty much a waste of time – evolutionary speaking. But of course, that doesn’t help the five-year-old who’s just been crushed under your shopping cart at the Walmart Black Friday event.
[Featured Image by Joshua Lott/Getty Images]