t’s all about Dopamine, when it comes to Black Friday and Retail Therapy. Without getting too scientific, Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter in our brain’s reward system pathway, an interconnected group of structures in our central nervous system called the mesolimbic pathway. While many neurotransmitters are involved with feelings of pleasure, including serotonin, oxytocin, and others, dopamine is certainly the main player. Dopamine and the reward pathway are closely linked to memory and motivation, so if shopping last year got a bit out of control, you may be at particular risk to exceeding your Black Friday budget in 2023.
There are several motivating factors when it comes to shopping. “Retail Psychology” is a term coined for the study of the factors that influence our spending. It’s the why, how and how much of shopping and “employs theoretical and psychological approaches to understanding consumers” (American Psychological Association). Understanding consumer spending means big money for businesses, and for better or for worse, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are opportunities for these businesses to show off their understanding of the concepts involved. There are both “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivators for shopping. Intrinsic reasons are personal; we want or even need a product. Extrinsic reasons are driven by external factors. These external factors are where we can get ourselves into trouble. Big businesses create a sense of urgency to buy products that we may not need. Large lines and advertisements claiming “sale ends at midnight” or “buy now, while supplies last” create a fear of missing out (FOMO). These social drivers should not be overlooked.
With all being said, Black Friday can be a great time to find amazing deals. It’s when the “extrinsic factors” or social competition aspect of shopping and Retail Psychology take over, where we get ourselves into trouble. People shop for all kinds of reasons, and taking a moment to reflect on yours, could save you a few dollars and a bit of post-buyer’s remorse.
Dopamine release caused by a healthy meal, a romantic evening, exercise, socialization and even a quality purchase, reinforces these behaviors. The dopamine pathway is highly linked to memory and motivation, and for good reason! However, excessive dopamine release can cause sensitivity and tolerance to this neurotransmitter, creating an unhealthy relationship with any (and all) of the above. Various studies have shown that excessive shopping (and other addictions) have a genetic component. Some individuals are more prone to excessive shopping and other addictions, based on their own brain chemistry. Red flags for shopping could be an increased focus on shopping, decreased ability to be present with family or friends, and failure to meet other obligations. If someone consistently spends more than they intended to, that would also be a major red flag. The Dopamine surge that individuals get when finding deals, driving to a store, or rushing to buy one of the last items on a rack is reenforcing, so if you’ve had difficulty with excessive spending in the past, that may be indicative of your spending in 2023.
Tips for Black Friday and Cyber Monday
1. Make a list of items that you want or need, prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
2. Do a little research beforehand. How much do they actually cost? What would constitute a deal?
3. Set a budget. How much are you willing to spend on the items on your list?
4. Set a separate budget for “impulse buys.” Let’s be honest, they’re going to happen.
5. Take a breather between the items being in your cart, and heading to checkout. Dopamine levels are spiking when you decide to buy something, not actually when you’re at the register. Once you know that an item can be yours, stop, take a breath, review your budget, and if you still want that big screen TV, head to checkout.