It’s that time of year again! Black Friday y’all and for those of you who have been reading MSG since the beginning, you are probably expecting my usual annual I HATE BLACK FRIDAY rant. I’ve decided to do something different this year. Over the summer I’ve been working on an outline for a post on the reasons we buy and how our buying habits have turned the US into a culture driven by consumerism and requiring excessive amounts of storage for all of our “stuff”. As my outline grew, I decided “why we buy” needed to be a series of posts and felt this week was perfect to kick off the first in the series, the lure of the sale.
As Thanksgiving approaches, the chatter in the media and social media about boycotts, petitions and blue laws show I’m not alone in my distaste for national retailers starting the Black Friday hysteria one day early, on Thanksgiving. At the same time I’m also aware many of my friends and neighbors look forward to the start of the holiday shopping season and heading to the mall with their family post turkey and football.
If you asked me a few years ago if my temptation meter went into overdrive at the hint of a discount, I would’ve firmly responded “oh hell no”. I perceived myself as a buyer more concerned with quality, fit, design and manufacturing origin. Sure, I loved it when I could satisfy all those check points and get a discount too, but my desire to buy was not overwhelmingly driven by the possibility of getting a deal. I always felt my shopping issues were motivated by other factors and less by the lure of the sale. During the past few years and particularly since the inception of my Poshmark closet, I realize now how truly wrong I was. While I would still say markdowns are not the number one motivating factor for me on all purchases, I am far from immune to the emotional pull of a lower price.
A few examples of “my high and mighty, prices don’t affect me” delusion:
The Holiday Sale Table
During holiday shopping, it wasn’t uncommon for me to buy items for myself while buying gifts for friends and family, often plucked off the sales table. Every cashmere item I’ve ever owned has been bought on sale in November or December.
The Flash Sale
I had to wean myself off of Gilt, the flash sale site. I had a major Gilt problem. My extensive Current Elliott collection, arty dessert plates and gorgeous huge lime Chinese garden stool were all Gilt purchases. Gilty as charged.
The Employee Discount
In my last weeks with Prada, I bought a beautiful Napa Gaufre bag. It was the most I’d ever spent on bag. It was the last buy using my employee discount so of course it also was the most memorable.
Most of my poshtakes (the posh purchases that formerly languished in someone else’s closet that now languish in mine) definitely would not have occurred if I was looking at those pieces at full retail.
As I look inward and also observe my fellow shoppers, I started to think about the reasons why we are so tempted by markdowns even when an item wasn’t on our shopping list or wish list and more importantly, why we’ll still salivate at a sale even when our homes are overflowing, we’re buying on credit or living paycheck to paycheck. Obviously, we all would like to get a lower price on wants and needs so we can stretch our money and budgets farther but why does a discount or a sale push us so far away from intentional and toward impulse buying?
A sense of urgency
A VIP shopping night at our favorite boutique, a one day sale/pre-sale at a department store or a coupon with an expiration date creates a sense of urgency. When we have a limited window to purchase a current season item for 25% off, we may slack a bit and be less diligent about spending the same amount of time we normally would to evaluate whether or not to buy. Spotting a desired item on a resale site or sales rack also can play on our emotions as something we now desire may not be available later. It is ultimately more difficult to walk away to “think about it” when time and stock levels ceilings are looming over us.
It’s hard to resist what’s right in front of you
The main objective of door busters, loss leader items and too good to be true deals is to get the consumer to cross a retailer’s threshold. Once a buyer is in a retail establishment, he or she can’t help but be drawn in by perceived deals or new finds. Many minimalists and reformed shopaholics mention reducing trips to the mall, browsing online shops and reading magazines were key to cutting down on impulse purchases. Surrounding yourself with temptation is asking for it, quite frankly. Everything in retail is carefully thought out with the intention to play on either on a buyer’s emotions or rational decision making. Where to place certain departments, the size/color/placement of signage, the flow of the store layout and what items to put on the end of the aisles are not random or merely aesthetic decisions. Large retailers have put a tremendous amount of effort and thought into how to get you in the door. Once you’re in, the store has also been carefully laid out to increase the chances of an impulse buy. If a store carries frequently bought necessities, the “need” items are often placed around the perimeter or toward the back of the store, forcing the customer to walk past the “can live without” items on the way in and the way out. Think of a grocery store, where the basic items like meat, dairy and vegetables wrap around each end and the back of the store forcing the shopper to walk through the entire store. In every Longs, the pharmacy and paper goods are often located toward the back while snack foods and electronics are near the entrance. In a department or luxury store setting, categories women often buy on impulse again and again are located near the entrance. It’s no accident the women’s shoe department is located directly inside the main mall entrance for Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom at Ala Moana Shopping Center. Combine the proximity with a few well placed sales racks and there are very few women I know who can stroll by without taking at least a peek. Many of the retailers who have opted to open on Thanksgiving indicate they’re opening at the request of their customers. Really? How thoughtful of them. I thought they’re doing it to get the consumers’ wallets to cross their threshold before they’ve spent their money elsewhere.
We think more about a lower price than the value
We’ve become a bit of a throwaway society. The proliferation of fast fashion and imported items made cheaply have altered our views of a fair price. In my humble opinion, we think less about cost per use and more about the price tag in today’s society. When Walmart is selling a T for $10, it’s hard for our rational buying mind to justify buying a well made T for $30. Even if the Walmart T will lose its shape or get fuzzy after a few washes, it’s hard for our brains to wrap around the cost per wear when we see that $10 price tag. We don’t often put a value on the time suck or how multiple purchases can drain our disposable income as we constantly feel like we have nothing to wear or our household items broke and/or didn’t perform as expected. Along the same lines, we can also get sucked in by special purchases made by retail merchandisers with the intent of selling “on sale” at an outlet or during the a sale period. Instead of evaluating the quality of an item, we’ll see a sale price with a regular price noted on the tag and automatically assume we’re getting a deal when in reality, that merchandise was bought with the intent of selling “on sale” and was not a true markdown at all. Many outlets cannot fill their inventory needs with true dead stock from their regular stores and therefore source lower quality merchandise for the outlet store specifically. For Black Friday shopping, the really cheap deals on electronics are often generic brands with a lower initial full retail price.
We feel like we’ve accomplished something
Who isn’t proud of getting a good deal? The thrill of the hunt, the feeling of being a smart shopper, negotiating a lower price or beating someone else to that resale item can feel pretty satisfying. So, we bought a shirt that looks like ten other shirts we already own, a new TV when our old one works just fine or those Ferragamo bow flats we bought on Posh weren’t the color we really wanted (true story). We should still be excited because we got such a great price, right? Our psyche also has us thinking we shouldn’t feel as good about an item that is properly priced for its value. It’s much more satisfying to perceive the seller came down in price from what they really wanted for the item without considering the original price may have been grossly overpriced. For some people, it doesn’t feel like a deal unless the price is lower than the original asking without any true analysis of whether the sale price is a good value. We sometimes inadvertently pay too much for an inferior product on sale but avoid paying full price for a properly priced item.
As I try to live my life with intention, I find it helps to dig deep on why I behave a certain way and how to change my habits. So, the following advice is just as much for me as it is for others. How to not get sucked in by the lure of the sale:
Know exactly how much you have and how much you need
I wrote about setting limits on my cosmetics in an earlier minimal me post in terms of the number of brushes, eyeshadows, etc. I would have on hand at all times. Setting limits has prevented impulse buys in personal care as I don’t even feel the need to browse until a true replacement is needed. Having established limits could work in other areas as well. Determining how much pairs of jeans, pretty bowls and black pumps are sufficient can prevent unnecessary on sale purchases in these areas until a true need to replace or upgrade arises. Counting how many items you do have can also be an eye-opening and sobering experience.
New and improved will always be there
A new and improved version of an appliance or electronic gadget will always be available when you need one. Buying that new tv or cell phone because there’s a deal is not saving you money if your current model did not need to be replaced.
Turn off the noise
Sales brochures and coupons get tossed in the recycling bin without reading unless I already have a shopping trip for a specific item planned. Emails from online retailers are either automatically filtered to trash in my email or manually deleted upon receipt without opening. Comments from poshers about one day price reductions go ignored. I also stay away from department stores and national chain stores during the holiday season. I keep my gift giving minimal and do most of my holiday shopping either online or at small local businesses or craft fairs.
Never buy a “want” on sale using credit unless you pay off your entire balance each and every month
A sale buy that is purchased on a store card accruing interest is not a sale, ever. The relentless amount of coupons Macy’s sends are often only eligible if you use your Macy’s card. While all store cards have high interest rates, Macy’s is particularly high. At the time of this writing, their APR is 24.5%. Remember going to Macy’s specifically because there was a one day sale and buying that super cute bright pink Coach bag which is now sitting in your closet barely used? If you bought it on sale with your store card and didn’t pay it off, that sale item is costing you much more than you may have thought.
Keep a wish list
I find it helpful to keep a wish list for items I’d like to get a deal on or buy in the future. My wish list is limited to items I’ve given thought to, not random trendy one-offs or more of what I already have. I consider why I want the item and whether I already have anything similar. If I do find the perfect wish list item, I don’t rush it and do my research before buying by reading reviews or asking the right questions (if it’s a resale item). Only when I’m certain I want to buy it do I search online for a coupon. For certain items I may stay away from resellers if I need the safety net of a good return policy (a deal is not a good deal if it didn’t work for you and now you’re stuck with it). I also find having a wish list helps me to automatically focus more on the quality of an item. It’s the random unplanned and non-researched impulse buys that cause me to look the other way in regards to quality.
Are you a big sale shopper? How do you feel about Black Friday and the constant sale noise we see every day as consumers?
Articles/posts referred to or of interest:
My Black Friday rant of 2011 (I haven’t changed my mind):