Why Is Shopping So Violent Lately?

December 28, 2011


We find shopping to be one of the most pleasurable and relaxing of activities. But it seems like there are a lot of pissed off and stressed out people heading to the mall these days, if recent news of mall brawls is any indication.

Today Gawker reported, via the Star Tribune, that a huge flash mob-like brawl took place yesterday at the Mall of America in Minnesota, which resulted in the whole place being put on “lockdown.” A fight broke out in the food court, which quickly escalated into this:

“Several witnesses said the melee had elements of a “smash and grab” flash mob, including heavy use of cellphones. They said those creating the disturbance numbered in the hundreds and some knocked down shoppers and grabbed items from kiosks and shoppers.”

The mall was put on lockdown, though that order was later rescinded by police. But people reported being locked into stores and even placed into stock rooms. Some residual fights broke out, but police got things under control after about an hour or so.

Racked reported that yesteray’s 60% off shoe sale at Saks in NYC yesterday became rather violent, with security guards breaking up a few scuffles. And last week Buzzfeed posted a video of a girl being trampled by a group trying to get their hands on new Air Jordans. And of course there’s that famous Black Friday pepper spray incident, in which a woman entered a California Wal-Mart store with a can of pepper spray (which she was not afraid to use) in order to get her hands on doorbuster deals. Twenty people were injured in that little stunt.

What the heck is going on with people? Are stores’ marketing efforts too effective in creating hype? Are we just angrier in general? A new study reported in The Atlantic today may shed a little light, though there’s probably much more to this phenomenon.

A marketing professor in England published a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, in which he had “attractive people” go into stores and either casually brush up against shoppers or just stand near them. The goal was to test the effect of a “stranger’s touch on shopping times and customer evaluations.” The effect was that it made people sorta freaked out.

The respondents who got touched spent less time in the store, and reported more negative brand evaluations and negative product beliefs than the ones who weren’t touched. And if the toucher was a guy, they effects were even worse. This led the researchers to conclude that shoppers who get touched leave a store faster and are more likely to dislike whatever it is they were looking at. So maybe a bustling, busy store isn’t such a great thing.

Good lord! What is goin’ on with our world?

words by Cheryl Wischhover


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