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4 Sneaky Ways That Retailers Try To Get You To Overspend, Plus How to Avoid Them

4 Sneaky Ways That Retailers Try To Get You To Overspend, Plus How to Avoid Them

We all know that our feelings can lead us to overspending. But did you know that marketers have specific strategies designed to make us spend? Like with specific names and instructions on how to deploy and whatnot? Here’s a list of some of these common strategies and ideas on how to steel yourself against them.

Humans have a natural desire to reciprocate when someone lends us a hand. Marketers are aware of this natural tendency to want to return favors and use marketing reciprocity to exploit it. Parties thrown in private homes to market household products (such as Tupperware and, later, Pampered Chef and other assorted products from multi-level sales companies) were designed to use reciprocity to encourage sales. The idea is, basically, give somebody something for free and then they are much more likely to buy something from you. A party, complete with snacks and drinks, registers in our brain like it is a favor, even when we know it is designed to sell us something. We are loosened up by the refreshments and the hospitality and are therefore more likely to buy.

Other places I have seen reciprocity in use action: at the bank, where there was (the usual) coffee available, along with a large plate of cookies; in direct-mail marketing, where charities will send us address labels in an effort to get us to donate money; real estate companies that send out calendars and memo pads to potential customers; and formula and diaper companies that give you welcome packages in the hospital after having a baby. Reciprocity involves something free, but it’s important to note that it is not as simple as a free sample of a product that might encourage you to buy more: reciprocity works best when the thing (or service) that you get for free is seemingly unrelated, a gift from the heart. That is what allows the marketer to be perceived as a benefactor before they become recognized as a marketer.

Quantity is Quality
While it’s sometimes true that buying in bulk can provide savings, this is often assumed as a given when it is anything but. Just because you buy a large quantity of something does not mean you’re getting the best deal, especially if you are buying large sizes of items that you don’t use often. To track these kinds of things, experts recommend maintaining a price book with the average sales prices for regular-sized items, the knowledge of which will allow you to evaluate whether you are in fact getting a good deal. Another thing to consider is whether you really need the item or not–I used the example of the two tubes of StriVectin cream at Costco that I considered buying last week. In that case, I considered buying an item I had never tried in bulk, since it was cheaper. But since I don’t even know if I like the product, it’s not really a deal, and fortunately I convinced myself of this in time!

Now Or Never
If a marketer can convince you that a product might not be available at a later date, you are much more likely to take the plunge, even if the purchase is a last-minute impulse buy. The success of Costco, for example, is due in part to an exploitation of this mentality: about 25% of their products are constantly changing, so the next time you visit Costco, that impulse item you see might not be there. If you are a regular shopper at Costco, you probably remember seeing a product there that you thought about buying, and then it was gone the next time you came back. This recognition makes you that much more likely to buy the next special item you spot there, out of fear that it is also a one-time purchase. I recently found myself considering buying some makeup products at Costco because of this mentality, but I was able to smack myself in the face and snap out of it.

The different emotional reactions we have to things can also drive our buying decisions. Studies have shown that feelings of disgust make people less likely to buy products, whereas sadness encouraged overspending. The theory for why this happens concerns what kinds of actions people are likely to take in the two different psychological states: when people are disgusted, they want to declutter, get rid of things that are disgusting them–whether they are things, people, dirt, food, etc. Sadness, on the other hand, makes us want to change things through acquisition–getting new things helps us feel like we are making positive change.

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