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Slow Shopping

Leading consumer psychologist, Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd works with PriceSpy to reveal how sales events pressurise shoppers and how consumers can reclaim Black Friday deals.

UK consumers are being encouraged to practice the art of slow shopping this sales season, to bring joy back to Black Friday and get the best deals. PriceSpy is working with leading consumer psychologist, Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, to highlight the tactics retailers are using to hook us in and how to manage temptation, as sale signs flash constantly in our peripheral vision. 

According to Dr Jansson-Boyd, this year’s Black Friday event is set to be one of the most stressful yet. The usual pressure of the sales, coupled with high consumer anxiety amidst Covid and the pressure to have a perfect Christmas, means that more UK shoppers than ever face getting sucked into the hype. With a basket of 10 items costing up to £488 more over the Black Friday period, there is a significant risk of consumers spending more than they should on items that are overpriced, without thinking their purchases through. 

Why Black Friday/Cyber Monday may be a stressful sales period? 

As this is the first Christmas since COVID-19 struck that we are not experiencing restrictions, consumers really want the season to be a jolly one! Unfortunately, COVID-19 has led to many having high anxiety levels. And such anxiety levels have not yet gone away (even if they are not as high as they used to be). This anxiety is often experienced on a subconscious level and thus people are not aware that they are anxious. Already having higher than ‘normal’ (pre pandemic) anxiety means that any stressors experienced due to shopping or wanting the perfect Christmas will add to people’s feelings of anxiety and make them even higher. 

Add worries about supply shortages (to the aforementioned) and it is not surprising that people are thinking about Christmas earlier than normal and hence are on standby to purchase what they ‘need’. When an event such as Black Friday or CyberMonday is around the corner – which has in the past been shown to make people feel ‘tense’ as they are trying to find the ultimate bargains – anxiety driven consumers will be likely to try to ‘grab a bargain’.

Image: Adobe Stock

Cues that can function as an aid to feel more comfortable about shopping 

Showing imagery of consumers engaging in shopping can encourage others to go out and do the same. At a time when some are still cautious about engaging in physical shopping a picture such as the one above can make people think that it is a good idea to attend in person. As social creatures people tend to look at what others are doing and assume that they know something that they do not and therefore follow suit.

Use familiar objects (such as a flag) that people can easily identify with to make them relate and to capture their attention. People can report the identity or category of common objects in the central visual field in as quickly as 350 ms. By focussing almost instantly on the familiar object they will feel more at ease – provided that the object symbolises something that has positive meaning. 

Example of tactics used to entice and persuade consumers

  • It is worth noting that Black Friday is an event that has ‘limited time offers’ meaning that consumers know that they need to purchase any items they want during the time the event is happening. Hence creating a sense of urgency. 
  • Limited time offers is a key factor in increasing a fear of missing out.

Presentation of products

  • Many consumers assume that websites put their most popular items first. 
  • As we are concerned of missing out on what is popular it means we often purchase one of the items presented to us first.
  • However, often the first items are simply those that companies need to get rid of urgently. 

The checkout is super-efficient

  • Most websites have a smooth check out processes.
  • You can order everything within seconds if you save all your information on their sites.
  • The quicker a person makes the purchase the better for the site as it means the consumer have no time to rethink the purchases and change their mind.

Social proof

  • People are social by their very nature, and they assume that there is safety in numbers.
  • Hence, when reviews, likes and recommendations are used it signals to the consumer that an item is tried and tested. It makes it seem safe to purchase. 

Loss leaders

  • Huge discounts are often used to entice consumers to go into stores or onto websites. They are key in crating what is sometimes referred to as a shopping momentum. Basically, this occurs when a purchase provides you with a psychological impulse to purchase another.
  • It essentially ‘puts’ consumers in the right frame of mind for shopping and they therefore almost automatically will look at other items they can buy. 

Free deliveries

  • Often websites offer free delivers for over a set amount.
  • This is a common technique to make consumer spend more.
  • Consumers are often happy to meet the spending requirements as they therefore will feel as if they have not wasted their money on something nontangible (delivery).
  • From a seller’s point of view, it is worth noting that many consumers change their mind if a shipping fee is added at the end. Especially if it was not clear whilst shopping.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

  • Fear of missing out is when a person is feeling psychological stress when they think they are missing out or being excluded from enjoyable experiences others are having. 
  • In terms of consumption FOMO appears when people think ‘supplies are running out’. This being because people don’t want to miss out on getting a product that is clearly popular with others (as there would otherwise not be so few left).
  • People are affected more by losses than they are by gains. Therefore, people try to avoid the pain of missing out on something and dwell on the defeat if they do. 
  • Because people are afraid of missing out on something that they think is a good offer, it can lead them to make hasty decisions, that they may later regret. 
  • FOMO can be prompted by wording such as ‘only 2 left’ and ‘limited time’.

Bargains: How consumers respond when they get caught up in the sales hype

Shopping is an Ego-expressive activity

  • Price promotions can generate great excitement for consumers – especially if consumers think that ‘hunting for a bargain’ will show their capability at finding the best possible price.
  • This gives people what is sometimes referred to as ‘smart shopper feelings’ as the consumer feel superior to others that they have got a real bargain.  
  • Effectively it expresses part of their personality as their self-concept is altered alongside their shopping skills.
  • Paying a low price, makes shoppers feel smart and competent and a sense of outwitting large corporations. 
  • This is often accompanied with a feeling of pleasure – something that is normally not long-lasting. 
  • However, these bargain hunters may also experience regret of a purchase if they later find that is cheaper elsewhere.
Image: Adobe Stock

The reward circuit is activated

  • The part of our brain that controls pleasure responds quickly to the sight of a ‘bargain’, causing us to experience a surge of excitement. When shoppers see a product they like with a price they perceive as ‘fair’ they experience a level of satisfaction, associated with recruitment in the nucleus accumbens (a structure associated with the anticipation of pleasure). This is part of the reward circuit (as can be seen below). 

Make shopping an enjoyable experience and ensure you are in charge

There are many different things that consumers can do to ensure not only that the experience is more enjoyable but also can make them feel as they have bought well-worth items at a good price.

Not the only sale

  • Remind yourself that this is not the only sale – there will be others. 
  • This can reduce the likelihood of a person making impulse purchases. 

Do your homework!

  • Consumers should make sure they know what an item normally costs so it is clear whether the reduction really is a bargain. This should be done ahead of time to ensure that you know what the ‘original’ price was. You may even consider using price comparison sites for this reason. 
  • Having as much information as possible can help your brain ‘put the brakes on’, allowing you to engage in more sensible decision-making and hence purchase items that you really want or need. 

Avoid looking at too many sites and making too many comparisons

  • Learning to choose is hard. Choosing well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is very difficult. 
  • Think about what sites/shops/brands you are really interested in and then stick to those. Look at only two or three. 
  • If trying to reduce the number of sites looked at – also consider what kind of gadget you are using. If using one with a touch-based interface such as an iPad or smartphone, you are more likely to search a higher number of sites. Hence, avoid doing your shopping through your smartphone. 

Think about how you feel

  • Consider how rushed you may feel when conducting shopping. If this is the case, then you may experience stress as a result, and this can put you in a bad mood. That’s good news for retailers, but bad news for you as negative emotions can lead to increased spending.

Shop with a friend

  • When you shop on your own you are more likely to purchase items that you think others may not approve of. 
  • Shopping with someone else adds a layer of considering whether something should be bought or not. This may put the breaks on to prevent impulse purchases. 
  • This is equally applicable to in-store shopping as it is for online-shopping.

Take your time – don’t rush!

  • People make better decisions when they are not in a rush. 
  • Even just adding one second, or less, to the time you take when considering a purchase can help improve the decisions you make.
  • Additional time allows the brain to focus attention on what is most relevant and block out what is not. 
  • Hence, you are much less likely to be distracted by an irrelevant in-store display or an online banner.

If in-store – never take a basket

  • Having a basket means that you psychologically think you have ‘room for one more’. 
  • Also, you may not carry around 5 items on your own in your hands but as it is easy to carry 8 items in a basket – you do just that.

If in-store avoid touching items

  • Consumers are more likely to purchase items that they touch as it generates psychological ownership.
  • Consumers are willing to pay more for items they touched. 

Lists are great

  • Write a list as it reminds you what it is you intended to buy.
  • Agree with yourself that you will not buy anything that is not on it.
  • If what you want is not in the sale – then do not buy something else as a substitute. 

Don’t sit too comfortably whilst shopping online

  • If you are not sitting comfortably, you are more likely to view the items online in a less favourable fashion.
  • This is because negative tactile input (through your bottom) is affecting your perception. 
  • Hence you will be less likely to purchase a lot of items. 

Avoid being tired

  • Having a coffee or going out to get some fresh air before you sit down for online shopping can be key to combat tiredness.
  • You don’t want to be tired whilst shopping as it increase the likelihood of making snap decisions that will result in unsatisfactory shopping outcomes.

Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd

22nd November 2021

This article is written by Retail Psychologist Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd. No one else has influenced the content of it. There are no paid links or other types of advertising collaborations.

Could Slow Shopping Help Break Negative Spending Habits?

Slow shopping is exactly what you think it is- spending time considering, debating, and then finally purchasing an item. Slow shopping is the opposite of impulse shopping. The idea behind slow shopping is that you are not drawn in by flash discount codes, a ticking clock on a website, or pop up boxes informing you that an item is selling quickly. It takes away any urgency around shopping, particularly when it comes to shopping online. 

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