Last year, on Amazon Prime Day, I filled my cart with tubes upon tubes of toothpaste.
“Well,” you might be thinking, “that’s not so bad. You’ll always need toothpaste.” Which might be true, if I’d been buying it for myself. But this was chicken-flavored toothpaste for my dogs — who, it’s worth mentioning, barely tolerate getting their teeth brushed. There’s no way I could ever get through even a fraction of the toothpaste I got for them. I bought it because I had to buy something, and it was the first thing that seemed like it’d be useful on a long list of “lightning deals.”
That feeling — of needing to buy something, anything, really — is what drives Prime Day, a 48-hour bonanza of flash sales that offer a limited supply of merchandise at a bargain price with a ticking clock. And experts say it’s the perfect combination of careful marketing and behavioral psychology to make you buy, buy, buy.
First, there’s the premise: Scoring a deal bumps up the neurological reward of shopping by several notches. “It just makes you feel good,” says Scott Rick, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan. In 2007, Rick was part of a team of researchers who looked at people’s brains in an fMRI as they made purchases. The nucleus accumbens — the brain’s pleasure center, which plays a key role in releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine — lit up with activity when people found something they really wanted, and the effect was even more intense when they got it on sale.
It’s the perfect combination of careful marketing and behavioral psychology, experts say, to make you buy, buy, buy.
And the time pressure of lightning deals trick your brain into leaping at the reward. “Part of it is, we love a game,” Rick says. “We don’t have a lot of them in our everyday life, and the idea of not wanting to miss out or getting the best deal becomes a kind of competition.”