How FOMO fed the Frenzy

For all the detractors of the Click Frenzy online shopping event (the Twitter hashtag #clickfail pretty much sums it up), I thought the sale provided some fascinating insights into how to motivate customers.

In a world where we all have too much stuff, why did so many shoppers race to be part of the feeding frenzy, some fruitlessly trying to log on to the site for hours? And even more bizarrely in the bricks and mortar world, how come customers have set up camp outside shops for up to five days ahead of this week’s Black Friday shopping event in the US?

It can be summed up in one neat little acronym: FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out. “FOMO is the sometimes energizing, sometimes terrifying anxiety that you are missing out on something absolutely terrific.” So said Bianca Bosker, senior technology editor for the Huffington Post in a JWT Intelligence report on FOMO released earlier this year.

Even more powerful than the drive to get a bargain is the fear of missing out on said bargain. And when retailers impose a limit on the time a sale runs or the amount of stock available, it can drive customers crazy.

This is nothing new of course. Clever merchants have been employing the principle of scarcity for millennia. But as the JWT Intelligence report states, “FOMO encapsulates an increasingly pronounced phenomenon in the age of social media – an ageless concept that’s reached a tipping point.”

You can see FOMO in action around Apple product releases. First the Apple faithful endlessly anticipate the latest i-Something via online chat forums and social media. Tantalising tidbits about the product are leaked from factories in China and find their way onto YouTube. Apple then stages an all-singing, all-dancing product reveal, which is replayed on and featured in traditional and social media. Hey presto. The lines form outside Apple Stores and fist-pumping punters emerge looking like they’ve won the lottery, while those at the back of the line become progressively anxious that they will miss out. And the “Sorry, sold out” signs at Apple the day after just make shoppers want the gadget even more. This is genius marketing that is far more impressive than the Genius Bar.

I was a FOMO victim myself at the Nike Fuel Station in Box Park in London in May this year. Along with a group from the Westfield World Retail Study Tour, I found myself eagerly purchasing the world’s most expensive rubber wristband – the 150 pound Nike FuelBand, limited for sale to just a few outlets in the UK – largely because the mob was slapping down their money and I didn’t want to miss out.

Get FOMO right and it feeds into a virtuous loop. Crowds attract bigger crowds. Queues encourage more people to line up. It helps that human beings are social creatures and we naturally like to band together.

So while Click Frenzy clearly failed in some ways, it reminded me that one of the most powerful forces available to retailers is FOMO. By convincing customers that they might miss out, the product you’re trying to sell becomes an absolute must-have (or perhaps even lust-have) item. Once again, emotion triumphs over rationality.