The Why #11: Why aren’t we shopped out by Boxing Day?

By Dan Monheit, 17.12.20

Question submitted by Lauren, Prahran

It’s weird hey? Kind of like being completely stuffed at the end of the main course but then magically finding room for dessert. As an impartial observer (being Jewish and all) the enthusiasm around Boxing Day has always struck me as strange.

For a start, the lead up looks insane. By the time December 25 rolls around, most people have already spent days, weeks and months, ploughing time, energy and emotion into finding perfect gifts for those closest to them (and passable gifts for everyone else). The craziness then cranks up a notch in the final sprint to the finish, with shopping centres open around the clock, online retailers offering up ‘super express’ delivery options, and servos throughout the land cramming countertops with last minute gift ideas (USB powered desk fan, anyone?).

And then, just when I imagine everyone is about to fall into a giant, retail-fatigue-induced heap, we see the second wind to end all second winds, with millions of Australians rushing straight back to the shops.

Boxing Day. What the actual?

Licensing Effect

It seems to me, that ‘the actual’ has a lot to do with the Licensing Effect, a cognitive bias that refers to our core desire to maintain balance between our indulgent and virtuous selves. Psychologically, we work on an internalised bargaining system as our mind tries to constantly offset our positive acts against our negative ones to create equilibrium. Essentially, it’s the ‘because I did X, I deserve Y’ mentality.

A study by Wen-Bin Chiou (2011) looked at the impact that a small, virtuous act could have on people’s subsequent choices. In this experiment, one group of participants were given a multivitamin each morning, while a second group were not. The group that received the multivitamin ended up being more susceptible to a wide variety of bad decisions including smoking, drinking to excess and turning away from healthy activities like walking and yoga — simply because they felt that the multivitamin was countering the effects.

Similar studies have found that ‘energy efficient’ lights get left on more (Schleich et al. 2014), buyers of ‘green’ products use more water when washing their clothes (Geng et al. 2016), and none of us need a research paper to confirm that a solid gym workout in the morning makes us far more susceptible to smashing a cheeseburger (with all the delicious extras) for lunch (we deserve it!).

Which brings us back to December 26. After all of that effort shopping for friends, family, colleagues and coaches, The Unofficial Festival of Licensing Effect (AKA Boxing Day), has become the 24 hour period where we turn our attention and generosity squarely inwards. It’s the day for treating ourselves with all the goodies that Santa didn’t quite get around to bringing us this year, and we’ll battle crazy carparks, packed escalators and credit card wear out to get them (did I mention, ‘we deserve it’?).

For brands and the salespeople who represent them, listen out for clues that a purchase may be landing in the ‘treat myself camp’, rather than the pragmatic, rational one. If it sounds like you’re talking to a treater, then don’t miss the opportunities for cherry on top upgrades. Afterall, if we’re going to treat ourselves this year, we might as well do it properly. Why? Because we deserve it, of course.

That rounds out our last edition of The Why for 2020 🎉 Thanks for sending in your weird and wonderful questions in a weird and wonderful year. We’ll return with full bellies, full of answers, ready to tackle an inbox full of irrationality early in 2021.

Behaviourally Yours,
Dan Monheit

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Temporal Discounting and how brands can use it on episode 8 of the Bad Decisions Podcast.

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Want more?
Want more? Check out Dan’s write with Mumbrella on Why Aussie’s are looking to treat themselves this Christmas

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