Psychology of a Sale

Picture this: You’re at a department store. You’re a smart shopper so you’ve prepared a list of items you plan to buy and have budgeted accordingly. But as you venture toward the back of the store, you pass the clearance rack and spot a pair of jeans that have been reduced from $200 to $75. At a discount like that, the store’s practically begging you to buy them, right?

If you’ve ever felt this kind of pressure to purchase, you’re not alone. In fact, retailers depend on these sales techniques to move merchandise and get you to buy stuff you may not even want. The following are some examples of psychological tactics used to tempt you to reach into your wallet.

Sale Tactics to Watch Out For

  1. The Deep Discount: Retailers often will tempt shoppers with steep discounts, especially on hard-to- sell or overstocked luxury goods. But just because you can save a significant amount doesn’t mean you won’t still spend a significant amount.

  2. Tip: Ignore the original retail price and focus on the sale price. If it’s still outside your financial comfort zone, walk away.

  3. Bundling: This tactic takes several forms, the most common of which are sales that force you to buy one or more items at full price in order to get an extra item free or at a discounted rate. This fools you into believing you’re getting a bonus, when really, you’re just buying more to help cover the cost of the additional item.

  4. Tip: Ask yourself, do you really need multiple versions of the same thing?

  5. Time Limits: Retailers know you might actually stop to think about your finances prior to taking advantage of a sale. That’s why they often attach time limits to entice you to act without thinking. Holiday sales and similar time-sensitive specials create a false sense of urgency.

  6. Tip: Unless you already planned on buying an item that day, don’t let an arbitrary deadline force you to spend.

  7. Scarcity: Stores often attempt to induce shoppers into panic mode by conveying a false sense of scarcity. They incorporate such phrases as “while supplies last” and “items are going fast.” Whether the retailer actually has a low inventory is beside the point.

  8. Tip: Consider whether you need the item today, or if you can find it elsewhere when you have the money.

Ultimately, remember there’s a reason something went on sale, whether it has been unpopular with other shoppers or if the store just needs a quick boost in sales. Think hard about whether you actually want to buy an item, if you can afford it, and whether or not you are falling for a retailer’s mind games.

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