The psychology of Cyber Monday

We unpack the 3 biggest tactics online retailers will use to make you consume mindlessly this Cyber Monday — and how you can be more mindful of them.


Browse, tap, buy — it sounds so simple, right?

Except it’s not. There’s thousands of years of human psychology running beneath the surface, that online retailers have learned to tap into. And as your favourite online stores slash prices and run sales for the internet’s biggest day of shopping, Cyber Monday, you’ll see these tactics out in force.

We’re guilty too - launching a small run of Intangible Goods earlier today - but being more mindful of the tactics below means you’ll be more informed, and make your purchases for all the right reasons.

Buy now, think later


Any salesman or saleswoman worth their salt knows that the best way to make you buy something you don’t really need or want is to create a sense of urgency.

This is done with overt language like ‘Buy now!’, ‘Sale!’, and ‘Limited stock!’, as well as subtler cues - like stock counts (‘Only 2 left’), user counts (‘2 Other people are looking at this item’), and even the use of bright primary colours.

The goal is to put your mind in its stress-responsive state, otherwise known as flight-or-fight. In this state, adrenaline and cortisol flood your bloodstream, causing your heartbeat to rise and your bank account to empty. Instead of thinking through purchases calmly and rationally, in this state you’ll make purchasing decisions more emotionally and impulsively.

In fact, Cyber Monday itself could be seen as one big example of this tactic — a single day on which all your favourite online retailers drastically lower their prices.

If you find yourself getting swept up in the madness of it all, the solution is to stop and breathe. Fill your shopping cart, then step away from your computer or set your phone down for 2 minutes of mindful meditation. Focus on the clouds, on your gentle breathing in and out. If you come back after 2 minutes and still want all that stuff, great — if not, remove what you don’t want and complete your purchase.

The fear of missing out


Up there with flight-or-fight is a little psychological phenomenon called loss aversion. Put simply, us humans are hardwired to feel our losses twice more than our gains.

This means if we see an item is on sale, and that there’s limited stock available, we’re more likely to purchase it simply because we don’t want to deal with the potential feeling of not purchasing it. Tricky.

But there is a way to alleviate your FOMO, and it involves reverse psychology. When you’re itching to buy something in short supply, think of 3 things you would lose if you purchased it. It might be money, deskspace, or dignity - whatever it is, list it out on a piece of paper in front of you. Then weigh up your purchase.

Social shopping


Often what we buy isn’t for us. And I don’t mean it’s a gift either. As social creatures, we often purchase items for purely social reasons.

It might be new shoes or a name-brand watch to signify our high social status. Or something more discreet, like tickets to a niche indie band whose music we don’t really like, simply to show how cool we are.

Online, this tendency is compounded with social media. Now hashtags plug into our purchases. We might buy something simply to snap a pic of it and show it off. Five-star or one-star ratings can also sway our social sensibilities.

But social shopping isn’t all bad. Often these purchases can add real social value to our lives, deepening our relationships with others or a social group, and helping us express our sense of self. Plus the emotional benefits we receive are real.

So, just as a precaution, ask yourself - who am I buying this for?

The big takeout? Consume wisely.

We believe in healthier consumption habits: The more informed you are, the more intentional you can be with your purchases. And that’s a good thing. So whether it’s a new sweater, or a ten-pack of Intangible Goods 😉, remember to be mindful this Cyber Monday.