Nic Murray, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

A very black friday?


Why flash sales can be risky in periods of poor mental health
Though only a recent arrival to the UK, Black Friday has taken over both high streets and online retailers. UK consumers are expected to spend over £2 billion during the course of the day, with almost half of that being spent online. Many online retailers are also offering daily deals for as long as the next fortnight. This means that there is ample opportunity for savvy customers to pick up a bargain or something they had their eye on at a reduced price. Unfortunately, it’s also quite easy for heading online to pick up a deal to quickly turn into spending more than you had planned.


The fear of missing out
For some people with mental health problems, flash sales like Black Friday can place great stress on people’s shopping experience. Periods of poor mental health can in some cases be accompanied by more impulsive decision making, or anxiety and worry about the future. Both of which can make Black Friday shopping more difficult. The 24-hour window that deals are available for means that people have a short time to decide whether or not to make a purchase. This can often lead people to make impulse purchases motivated by fear that they’ll regret missing out on a good deal, or getting swept up among other consumers, thinking that if everyone else is buying it, it must be a good deal.


“I see 3 for 2 offers, and I will fear that if I don’t take advantage of the offer that I’ll regret it and I’ll punish myself…One day what if I need it and it’s ten times the price?”


“Even if I don’t need the items, if it’s on sale ” it’s a good deal” – I can get caught up in ‘panic-buy mode’, others are buying so it must be good, so you need to buy it. The cupboards are full of new, unused items and I’ll put them on store cards or credit if I’ve no more cash, just to chase the few minutes of a high/feel-good mood.”


A time for giving?
At this time of year many people will be also heading online or into the shops with a view to picking up Christmas presents for friends or loved ones. Being able to exchange gifts with loved ones is something most of us look forward to and usually makes us happy, but sometimes this can lead to a desire to give more than we can afford. Many people have told us that when experiencing periods of depression or low mood they have spent large sums of money on gifts for friends and family as a way to make themselves feel better. But in getting wrapped up with trying to be kind to others, they left themselves in considerable financial difficulty.


“I have periods of over spending which can spiral out of control. I then panic as there’s no way of undoing it. I once spent £2k on a curry’s sale website on stuff I didn’t need as a gift to my kids in the hope they would help me more.”


“I have had issues with online shopping…I can’t go out and work to provide for my family so I hunt and gather bargains online instead.”


Taking back control
Everyone loves a bargain, but when people end up losing track of how much they can spend or putting themselves in financial difficulty just to get that great deal it becomes a problem. We believe that retailers should offer people greater controls over their retail environment. This could involve or setting daily spending limits on online shops, alerts to let you know you’ve spent a lot in a short period of time, or being able to opt out of email marketing late at night when those still awake might be more likely to have reduced impulse control. Just as being weighed down by bags on the high street might be a reminder to go home, receiving a text alert when shopping online might be enough to allow people to realise it’s time to take a break from their computer.


This Black Friday
Even without these tools being available to consumers yet, you can still schedule in a break or pause from shopping for either a short breather or to double check you want all those items in your online basket. That short breathing space could help avoid those impulsive purchases during a stressful shopping experience. But if you’re concerned about your spending behaviour, or that of anyone close to you, the Money Advice Service can offer practical support with managing money. And Mind can offer support with information and tools to support good mental health.