Psychology of the sales - are you missing out?
Everyone loves a bargain, but this Christmas time beware of the lure of knockdown prices - all may not be what it seems, writes David Quinn
Like your man in that Barry's Tea radio ad says "there's something about Christmas". Yes there's something about this time of year all right that induces an irrational spending frenzy in us all.
Everyone seems to go a little bit mad buying things for people who don't really need them, with money they don't really have, for a religious festival most of them don't really believe in any more. And the best bit is that they do it twice, once in the run up to Christmas and then, 24 hours later, all over again in the sales.
This is the best time of year to be a retailer. It's like all their birthdays have come at once. Most of them will do the biggest percentage of their annual trade in the four weeks of the traditional annual shopping frenzy, formerly known as Christmas, and the second biggest percentage 24 hours later for the sales.
So how do they do it? Well there are a number of things going on here. On a superficial level of course, there are the sales and the bargains and the once in a lifetime offers. But it's what is going on at a deeper level that is far more interesting.
This is the stuff that most of us never think about but a whole industry is employed to research it, think about and manipulate all with the sole aim of separating you from your hard earned euro.
Full disclosure: I am one of those people who sit in brainstorming meetings in April and come up with plans in June to help you have a pleasant experience this shopping season.
The first big difference between the pre-Christmas splurge and the January sales, one that most of us probably don't realise, is that in the sales you are free to buy for yourself. All that hassle of having to buy stuff for others is officially over. And now it's time to buy for the most important person in the room - you.
Wait a minute, didn't you already spend a load of money in those same shops just last week? Ah but, as some politicians might say, that was then and this is now. By lowering the price on some goods (usually end of line small and plus sizes) the retailers remove any objection to further spending, particularly on yourself - clever eh?
A little side bar here:
The most important consideration when buying something for yourself is how you believe that purchase will make you look in the eyes of your peers (usually friends and family) and how you want to influence that perception. Whether you want them to think more or less of you. Most of us process these thoughts subconsciously. We are not even aware we think like this. But this sort of thinking has a profound effect on our behaviour and on the purchases we make.
Picture the following scene. You probably had an encounter like this during the economic downturn. You meet a friend on the street and compliment them on an item of clothing they are wearing.
The first words out of their mouths, usually in a defensive fashion, are invariably "Penneys! I got it in Penneys". Or you compliment a dinner party host on their choice of wine and they reply: "Aldi!, I got it in Aldi".
What is going on in exchanges like this of course is that during the austerity years many did not want to be perceived by their friends as being flash with the cash so they immediately shouted the names of discount stores in some sort of knee-jerk reaction in the hope that these brand names neutralised any perceived objections their friends might have to their purchase.
That brings us neatly back to the post-Christmas sales. The most important thing they do is provide you with ammunition to deal with any negative perceptions in the eyes of your peers. "I got it in the sales". Sure who can object to that?
Not only that, but making a purchase during a sale allows you to be perceived as a smart person, someone in the know, someone to be reckoned with. For you know how to shop. You know how to hunt down a real bargain. You got 70pc off. And that means you are a real man/woman. The smartest person in the room. It doesn't actually matter whether you need it or not, or that you already have something like it in your wardrobe and will probably never wear it anyway. What really matters is that you got a bargain and getting that bargain can make you look good in the eyes of your peers: "Yeah €249 in the sales, down from €299 - who's the man?"
Another force at play in attracting you to the bright lights of the sales, and separating you from more of those hard earned euro, is fear of missing out. We are pack animals at heart and when we see news reports of queues and everyone out shopping we are overcome with fear that we must be missing out on something.
Before you know it you are wandering through the aisles of a department store looking for your size in last season's fashions.
So if you think that you are just going into town to get a bargain in the sales, remember an army of people has been working hard since last spring to make you feel good in the eyes of your peers about parting with more money than you intended.
Maybe you should consider taking the dog for a walk instead. It will cost you less money and your friends will still think as well of you.
David Quinn is managing partner of Bloom Advertising.