“A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.” John K Galbraith
With Summer sales, we can be enticed into buying goods that we don’t need and even don’t necessarily want but can human beings really resist impulse buying and a bargain? Marketers and businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the science of psychology and purchasing decisions. Examples include shop assistants asking if you want another item as you pay for your purchases, machine-learning algorithms that nudge you into buying things that you don’t need and sales assistants who ask if you want to try on shoes with that pretty dress / suit in the hope that you will buy both.
Although we think we are buying something because it will serve a particular purpose, products are usually chosen on the psychological meaning they hold for that person, especially in the case of impulse buying. Hence the quote by John K Gilbraith.
Consumer psychologists have ascertained that impulsive purchases occur when consumers perceive that the product or brand they are buying matches their own attitudes and self-views, helping them express and cement their own sense of identity. For example, if you think that you are cool and that it is important to be cool, you will probably be happy to pay a little extra to buy a brand / product that you perceive to be cool whether that is designer label clothes or shoes, car or even fridge. When brands are strong, they have clearly defined, human like, personality characteristics, which consumers use as signals to display their own personality to others. For example, some companies label their fruit as locally farm produced, such as Somerset Farm, only to include small print to say that the fruit is actually from overseas. However, for those consumers unaware of this but who identify with eco-friendly principles and supporting the local area, this purchase fits with their identity until this knowledge is exposed.
Many factors are influencing our increasing impulsive buying habits such as:
- Access to shopping 24/7.
- Being increasingly image conscious and therefore having the need to define ourselves even more with the latest clothes, products and goods.
- Increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques.
- Increasing range of choices whether this is supermarket shopping or clothes shopping or home furniture shopping.
- Increasing speed of change in fashion and technology so people feel they have to keep up by buying even more.
- Increasing levels of unhappiness / stress and therefore ‘retail therapy’ to make us feel better / less stressed.
- Increasing rate of a ‘throw away’ culture.
- Products, goods and clothes that are cheaper to buy, do not last as long and therefore are discarded and replaced creating a vicious cycle of spending.
- The use of credit cards which means that people do not have to stick to specific budgets each week anymore.
- Being able to return goods but not actually doing so only to discover them in the back of the cupboard two years later.
For some shoppers, impulsive buying habits can lead to psychological distress, regret, huge debt, spiritual emptiness and even breakdown in relationships. For others, it is just a case of too many unneccesary items. So if you want to avoid impulsive shopping during the Summer sale, here are some questions you may want to think about, reflect upon and then see if any of them change your impulsive shopping habits:
- Stop and consider if you are about to buy something to make you feel better? Ask yourself if you will feel better after making the purchase in one hour, one day, one week, one month, one year and so on.
- Think about your value systems. For example, do you value buying only what you need? Do you value saving your money? Do you value your ability to make wise spending decisions? Do you value your ability to choose wisely?
- Think about your belief systems. For example, do you believe that goods should be increasingly cheap to buy so you can replace them on a frequent basis? Do you believe that quality is better than quantity? Do you believe that you can love shopping but that you can also spend wisely?
- Do you make a list before going shopping? Research shows that having a list means that you stick to it, especially if shopping for groceries when hungry.
- Could you pay by cash as research shows that this reduces impulsive buying?
- Could you go shopping with a friend who is not influenced by trends and impulsive shopping to help rationalise your own thinking?
- Do you empathise with sales assistants who have to ask you a series of questions about additional purchases you had no intention of making, much to their embarrassment and exhaustion?
- What else could you do that might give you more sustaining satisfaction rather than momentary happiness? Perhaps, enjoy a joke or two.