How re­tail­ers trap us to over­spend

True Love - - Front Page - By SISONKE LABASE

It’s the sale sea­son again. Stores are get­ting rid of win­ter stock and the big red four-let­ter word – SALE – is there for all to see. Ev­ery shop is sell­ing its wares for lower prices, and who can re­sist? In the frenzy for a good deal, con­sumers ap­pear to be blind to re­al­ity. Take the case last year, when a re­tailer was caught out and ex­posed for a sale price that was ac­tu­ally more than the original price. Yes, re­tail­ers do that, and more, to at­tract us to their stores. An­other of the tricks they use is stress­ing the lim­ited du­ra­tion – if you don’t buy at the sale, you’ll miss out! The phrases “one day only”, “lim­ited stock” and “while stocks last” are all used to pres­surise us to spend.

So­cial psy­chol­o­gist Robert Cial­dini says re­tail sales are about mind games. “Re­tail­ers use phrases like ‘Buy one, get one free’ or ‘Buy three and only pay for two’ to make you be­lieve that you’ll be miss­ing out on a bar­gain if you don’t spend at a sale.”

Michiel He­ji­mans, a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant and the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Yoast, a search-en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion firm in the Nether­lands, agrees, say­ing words carry a lot of in­flu­ence. “For in­stance, the sen­tence ‘Get x off’ em­pha­sises achiev­ing a gain, while ‘Save x off’ em­pha­sises avoid­ing loss. Re­search has found that such word­ing mo­ti­vates you to buy more, even if other prod­ucts that you buy are not ac­tu­ally on sale.”


Do you ever ask yourself why the word SALE is al­most al­ways in big, bold letters? And, have you no­ticed how of­ten it’s dis­played in white or red? Ex­perts say cer­tain colours draw you in more than oth­ers. This in­flu­ences you on a con­scious and sub­con­scious level, cre­at­ing an im­pres­sion that colour alone af­fects as much as 62% of con­sumers.

Re­search by psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor An­drew El­liot, pub­lished in the Amer­i­can jour­nal Emo­tion, shows that “peo­ple re­act faster and more force­fully to red as it en­hances phys­i­cal re­ac­tions and is pro­grammed into our psy­che as a cue for dan­ger. Blue emotes feel­ings of trust and de­pend­abil­ity, which is why it’s used in lo­gos of many busi­nesses like fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. Re­tail­ers use this in­for­ma­tion to grab cus­tomers’ at­ten­tion and cue them to take ac­tion and pur­chase.”

An­other in­ter­est­ing fact from this re­search is that ads in colour are read up to 42% more of­ten than the same ads in black and white.


An­other study found that 52% of shop­pers don’t re­turn to a store be­cause of its aes­thet­ics and the over­all en­vi­ron­ment. So, prod­uct place­ment and the store’s de­sign play a part in one’s buying ex­pe­ri­ence. This is the rea­son why some stores change their lay­out dur­ing sale sea­sons. Pro­fes­sor Aye­sha Be­vanDye, from North-West Univer­sity in Pochef­stroom, says stores use this to their ad­van­tage. “The ad­vent of stream­ing ser­vices such as ShowMax, Net­flix and DStv Catch-up, along with the in­creas­ing up­take of DStv Ex­plora, lets peo­ple fast-for­ward past ad­verts to ac­cess con­tent with­out hav­ing to watch the ads. As a re­sult, mar­keters are do­ing prod­uct place­ments as a way of reach­ing their tar­get au­di­ence. While crit­ics ar­gue that the covert na­ture of prod­uct place­ments is a form of sub­lim­i­nal ma­nip­u­la­tion of con­sumers and thus, un­eth­i­cal, oth­ers say it’s sim­ply part of mar­ket­ing.”

There’ s a sci­ence be­hind why we buy on sale. Ned­bank se­nior be­havioural econ­o­mist Amy Un­der­wood ex­plains: “A study by be­havioural economists 20 years ago focused on util­ity, which is an econ­o­mist’s term for hap­pi­ness. There’s trans­ac­tional util­ity and ac­qui­si­tion util­ity. Ac­qui­si­tion util­ity is the hap­pi­ness you get when you have bought the item and trans­ac­tional util­ity is the feel­ing you get when you be­lieve you’ve saved money. You feel happy be­cause you got a good deal.”

Un­der­wood says: “A good deal is mea­sured by when there’s a gap be­tween what we think the value of the item should be, and the ac­tual price. Sales are seen as ef­fec­tive when we feel like we’ve saved money. We de­rive hap­pi­ness from the struc­ture of the trade.” She says re­tail­ers know what con­sti­tutes a good deal for us, so they link “high value” and “low cost” to get us to buy. “It’s the util­ity – we feel we’re get­ting this item of high value at a low price. The greater we think the value of some­thing is, the more we tend to en­joy it.”


Im­age con­sul­tant Tracy Gold agrees that sales can be a trap, but adds that you can ac­tu­ally save on a sale when you buy items you re­ally need. “There’s no point in get­ting into the sale frenzy over some­thing you won’t need. If you want to buy some­thing on sale that you’ve been eye­ing be­cause you think it’s great, then go for that item rather than wan­der aim­lessly up and down ev­ery aisle.”

Odetta Sekoko, fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor at Lib­erty, agrees that sales can lead to over­spend­ing. “Buying some­thing just be­cause it’s on sale is a prob­lem be­cause this does not nec­es­sar­ily mean an item is af­ford­able. If it still doesn’t fit within your bud­get, buying it at a sale price is an ex­pense you shouldn’t have in­curred. Rather spend time think­ing about what you re­ally want, and then hunt for bar­gains. An­other dis­ad­van­tage on a sales is that this can trig­ger im­pul­sive buying, lead­ing to you buy more items that you don’t need – and cer­tainly won’t have bud­geted for.”

Gold says when you buy an item you wanted but couldn’t af­ford be­fore, that should be re­garded as a bar­gain buy. “At a sale, aim to get high-end de­signer items or in­vest­ment pieces that will last you longer.”

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