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NKU professor is expert on ‘Black Friday’ shopping frenzy behavior; New York Times asks her about it

Staff report

A Northern Kentucky University professor is an expert quoted in a New York Times story about Black Friday’s ‘raging hordes’ of shoppers.

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See the whole story here.
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Bridget Nichols, an associate professor of marketing and sports business at NKU, has done insightful work on consumer behavior related to Black Friday when eager shoppers turn into shoving and shouting shoppers — and crowds that can turn angry.

Dr. Bridget Nichols

Here’s what Dr. Nichols has to say in the story by reporter Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi:

Perceptions of scarcity are 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.

In her research, Dr. Nichols has found that scarcity sparks “consumer competitive arousal,” the belief that a consumer situation is a competition in which there are potential “winners” and “losers.” Similar feelings arise at auctions, she said. “People want to feel they got a good deal,” she said.

Competitive arousal can be ignited by a perception that a specific good, such as a popular toy or flat-screen television, is in limited supply and available for only a short period of time.

Dr. Nichols found in her research, for example, that video game consumers had a heightened competitive arousal after viewing advertisements that described a new game as scarce or in limited supply.

“With Black Friday, those stampedes are driven by the emotions that are drawn from scarcity and competition,” Dr. Nichols said.

Competitive arousal can bring about another emotional driver: bonding.

Dr. Nichols has extensively studied the former “running of the brides” at Filene’s Basement stores in Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, in which designer bridal gowns were drastically reduced in price. At the event, brides-to-be, joined by friends or family members, teamed up to grab as many dresses as possible for the bride to consider.

Frenzied shoppers

“In the beginning, they expressed the mind-set that they wanted to ‘win,’ by finding a $5,000 dress for $300,” Dr. Nichols said. “But in the end, the dress became ancillary. The experience was about competing and bonding together.”

Sharing the Black Friday ritual with friends and family can create a similar sense of tribal bonding, Dr. Nichols said, and reinforce bad behavior. In one of her ‘running of the brides’ studies, the shoppers revealed how they hoarded as many dresses as possible, and negotiated trades with other shopping teams in which they misrepresented the value of the gown they gave away.

“Some admitted, ‘I was walking by a group of girls and they weren’t looking, so I took three of their dresses,’” Dr. Nichols said. “They felt like it was part of the game and it was acceptable to do these things. They thought, ‘I competed well.’”

Black Friday shoppers too, Dr. Nichols said, may exhibit a similarly heightened sense of competition that can lead to such behaviors as shoving other shoppers or taking goods from another customer’s cart. Such behavior is similarly perceived as a way to “win.”

A study in The Journal of Global Fashion Marketing found that Black Friday shoppers, perhaps not surprisingly, reported great pleasure in shopping. They were more attracted to the “hedonistic” atmosphere than those who opted to stay away from stores on that day.

Indeed, Dr. Nichols, who was not involved in that study, noted that many Black Friday spectators are attracted to the excitement of the scene.

Black Friday shoppers

With both spectators and shoppers descending on stores, Dr. Nichols said that stores need to have a plan for handling crowds and reducing violence.

“Stores want people to come and get excited,” she said. Unfortunately, all too often, many “don’t consider what might happen.”

For shoppers who are planning to join the Black Friday crowds, she advises being mindful of competitive emotions that can build when an item is perceived to be in short supply.

“Whatever the ‘scarce’ thing is, it will likely be in abundance come January,” Dr. Nichols said, noting that Hatchimals, the must-have toy of 2016, were in short supply before the holidays but became widely available just a few weeks later.

“Just remind yourself that no special deal is worth getting hurt over or hurting someone else,” she said.

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