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Why Do People Go Shopping on Black Friday?

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Black Friday is America’s favorite shopping day of the year where, as of 2016, more than one hundred million people converge on stores and e-commerce sites for supposedly the best deals of the year.

Given all of the hype for the day, it’s inevitable that unnecessary purchases are made. This got me thinking, what drives people’s shopping behaviors? Author and sales guru Geoffrey James maintains all buying stems from the interplay of six emotions.

Check out my video to learn about them:

Discover the six emotions that drive your impulse-buying decisions. As you read, think about which emotions sound more like you to make sure you are buying products for the right reasons:


Basically, if I am making the decision now, I will be rewarded. I have the perfect example for this: I recently bought a hammock and I wanted this hammock so bad because I was going to reap the reward of having an excuse to sleep outside. And when I was looking at the prices on Amazon, I was thinking the prices didn’t even matter, I just wanted the hammock.

When we purchase something new or experience novelty, it activates the dopamine neurotransmitter, so we feel good when we buy that new dress or get that cool electronic device or sleep in that hammock. This is a perfect tie to greed because we get greedy for our pleasure center to be activated. I got pleasure out of the hammock before it ever even got to my house.


Many people fear that if they don’t make a decision now, they’re toast. This is the epitome of Black Friday sales. Stores are preying on your fear–they’re telling you if you don’t get it now, you’ll never get it for that price again. This is why people wait outside for hours; it’s because they are afraid they are going to miss out. It’s also often why people buy things they don’t really want–they are afraid of wanting it later and not being able to get it. Don’t let fear drive your buying decisions.

Bonus read: Check out our article on The Science of Fear.


If altruism is a driver for us, we believe if we make a buying decision now, it will benefit others. A business example from us at the Science of People is our lie detection course. People paid to take our course and learn the science of lie detection. As they were learning, we also were doing research. So, we told people we’d love for them to have the skill, and when they bought the course they also would be helping with our research. Win-win. We even had customers submit videos of two truths and a lie, which we used to improve our course.

This also applies to “going green” initiatives. If you want to help the environment, you might be compelled to buy a Prius or environmentally-friendly products. Another example is recently I was shopping for my husband and saw that a shirt was dyed with blueberries and the proceeds helped a local organic blueberry farm. I knew I had to buy it.

Bonus read: Purchases that benefit others make us feel good. Find out why in my article on the Science of Kindness.


Envy causes people to think that If they don’t make a decision now, their competition will win.

My husband is a huge drone fan. I know he genuinely loves drones, but I think he also loves taking out his drone because everyone goes, “Oooh, that’s a drone! Is that the latest one? Look how small it is! Etc.” and then he posts these great videos online and gets more praise. Also, if anyone else has a newer drone than him, he is not happy. This is also common in the business world. If your competition has the latest and greatest technology, you want to have it too.


People purchase for pride when they believe the product will improve their reputation. The quintessential examples of this are early adopters. These are all the people who wait in line to get the newest iPhone or any other type of new product. They want to show people that they own the newest and best things and that they are great for having them.

A lot of pride and emotional energy is associated with wanting to have new things. These are also people who are proud supporters of their favorite brands. We even have early adopters at Science of People, ones who always are the first to sign up for beta versions of our courses and anything else we put out.


On the flip side, some people buy things because they worry that if they don’t make a decision now, they will look stupid. This is a bit different from the fear of missing out because it’s driven by the fear that our decisions will be a reflection upon us. People who experience shame in the buying cycle feel compelled to purchase things because they see other people doing it and feel they will not be good enough if they do not do the same.

Bonus read: Often, these types of buying decisions are the result of low self-esteem. If you’re prone to making them, check out my article on How to Look (and Feel) More Confident so you can learn that you don’t need to buy things to make you the worthy, amazing person that you are.

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