SCIENCE OF SALES
How retailers trap us to overspend
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.”