The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Bargain hunting is like a cocaine high

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 21 November 2023

A television at half price, satin bed linen with a 70 percent discount or a closet for a small budget: the discount days around Black Friday sales turn bargain hunters into predators. Some consumers only realize that they don’t actually need many products after they have made their purchase. And principles such as sustainable shopping are often forgotten in the shopping frenzy.

Bargain hunting is like a cocaine high

Scientist Johanna Gollnhofer, Director of the Institute of Marketing at the University of St. Gallen, explains why the brain stops working when hunting for special offers as follows: “Discounts activate the happiness hormone dopamine in the minds of consumers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that this effect can be compared to the consumption of cocaine.” In other words, anyone who discovers a bargain becomes euphoric and wants to gain an advantage for themselves by making the purchase.

“There is also another important factor – scarcity,” says Gollnhofer. After all, the offers are often only available for a few days, some even only on Black Friday or Cyber Monday itself, i.e. for 24 hours. “This leads to consumers feeling that they absolutely have to have it now, because otherwise they will miss out on the chance of a bargain.”

Discount and scarcity

Gollnhofer, who researches consumer behavior, explains this with evolutionary psychology: because our ancestors often lacked water or food, we have learned to grab it immediately and stock up when we can. “Scarcity makes us want something more,” says the researcher.

The combined effect of discount and scarcity is so strong that some people throw their other habits overboard when shopping during Black Week and no longer compare prices – even though the supposed bargains are sometimes not unbeatably cheap, as consumer protection found in a study last year. “There are many people who no longer think rationally and buy things they don’t need. Some of them are also putting far too much strain on their wallets,” says Gollnhofer.

And even personal principles are suddenly no longer so important to shoppers in the shopping frenzy. The idea of sustainability fades into the background when a product is supposedly unbeatably cheap. “And even consumers who have actually resolved to own less – the keyword here is minimalism – sometimes buy unnecessary items on days like this anyway.”

Hangover after intoxication

When the shopping frenzy is over and people realize that they have spent too much money or bought items that they don’t need, many return what they have bought. According to the delivery company DPD, Switzerland already has the highest returns rate in Europe at 25%, and this is even higher after Black Friday.

Although many online stores and stores accept returns, there is no general right of return in Switzerland. “Research also shows that reselling via an online platform is too time-consuming for many people and takes a lot of effort. So once something is in the household, it’s very difficult to get rid of it again,” says Gollnhofer.

©Keystone/SDA

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