Why do we feel the urge to buy things we don’t need on Black Friday? An expert explains all

Written by Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

Do you struggle to resist the Black Friday sales? Here’s why you feel the urge to shop (and how to resist it).

If you’ve been online at all over the last couple of weeks, you’ll no doubt have seen the influx of adverts, emails and social media posts shouting all about Black Friday.

It’s hard to ignore, no matter how hard you try to block it out. And as such, many of us find ourselves feeling the need to shop (even if we don’t actually need anything).

At a time when the cost of living crisis is adding to our financial strain, and many of us are trying to reduce the amount we buy and consume, giving in to the pressure to shop the Black Friday sales isn’t exactly the goal. So, why do the Black Friday sales feel so irresistible, and is there a way to stop ourselves from falling into the shopping trap? 

According to Dr Emma Hepburn, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book A Toolkit For Your Emotions: 45 Ways To Feel Better, the reason why shopping in the Black Friday sales is so tempting is because these kinds of deals tap into the way our minds work.

“The build-up to Black Friday means we are anticipating reward, and on the lookout for ways to satisfy that anticipation,” Dr Hepburn explains.

“Our reward system is more activated by anticipation than the reward itself, so the build-up and associated anticipation we experience means we are more likely to hit buy when we see the items that we feel will give us that reward.” 

She continues: “As it’s over a short period, we don’t have the come down that often occurs after receiving the item (these things are often not as rewarding as we anticipated), so we may buy several things over the timeframe in anticipation of that reward.” 

Investing in objects you don’t want or need isn’t good for your bank account or the climate.

The messaging surrounding the Black Friday sales also taps into the psychology of scarcity, which increases the pressure we feel to buy when things are on offer.

“If we think items are scarce, we are more likely to place a higher value on them, which means we will covet them more and more likely to feel there are benefits to buying then,” Dr Hepburn adds.

Altogether, then, the Black Friday sales work in a way which pushes us to spend our money – but being aware of these psychological traps is the first step towards resisting them completely.

There are also several tips and tricks you can use to resist the urge to shop – and that’s where this article comes in. To give you the tools you need to avoid overspending this Black Friday, we asked the experts to share their best advice. Here’s what they had to say. 

How to avoid overspending this Black Friday 

1. Create friction

Before the deals start drawing you in, try creating some friction by taking steps to make the act of shopping as hard or as prolonged as possible. This way, you’re less likely to make quick purchases.

“You want to reduce the automatic nature of shopping as much as possible,” says Dr Hepburn. “This might mean not having your card details stored and not having shopping apps on your phone. The more actions you have to take to buy an item, such as having to manually input your card details, the more possibilities you have to pause and consider if you really need it.” 

Dawn Baxter, a certified Positive Psychology Coach and owner of Beyond The Dawn Digital, agrees: “Don’t lead yourself into temptation – delete shopping apps and remove the notifications function from your phone or laptop. 

“Whether you realise it or not, this is a form of self-care as you acknowledge that something is causing you harm and are taking action against it.”

2. Interrogate the deals on offer

The deals on offer across the Black Friday weekend can often seem too good to be true – and that’s because sometimes, they are. 

If you have been planning on buying something for a while, it’s worth checking that the ‘deal’ you’re getting is actually a deal, says Mat Megens, personal finance expert and founder of the money-saving app HyperJar.

“There are loads of dodgy practices out there, with faked price drops – so watch out,” he says. “You want to be sure you’re getting a genuine bargain on the item you’ve set your heart on.” 

3. Shop around 

Scarcity tactics can make you feel like you need to buy from the first shop you visit; being aware of and pushing back against these tactics can help you to be less impulsive. 

“Scarcity marketing tactics stimulate our amygdala, which is the part of the brain that detects threat – or in this case, FOMO,” Baxter explains.

“Look out for the signs – companies using wording like cart closing, timed options on pages for checkouts or messages telling you that 30 people have this product in their cart right now. Some companies actually buy this software to create panic and drive sales, so don’t be sucked in.” 

Images: Getty

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