“Buy, Baby, Buy” (No, that’s not Buy Buy Baby©)
We are fast approaching the 2018 holiday season, when for decades the emphasis in America has been increasingly more on shopping than on thanksgiving, reflection, contemplation, and relationships.
It’s been a slow evolution, if not erosion. And we are all guilty of complicity one way or another, even if we justify it by thinking it’s about buying so that we can give. (That comment has more to do with consumer purchases. In the corporate world year-end purchasing often has more to do with the end of the capital budget year, in which case it’s more like buying so we can receive (and not lose the funds)).
A timely article in The Goods on Vox triggered my thoughts and bon mots that follow, since I, too, had spent a number of years on the marketing side of business and am no doubt “guilty” of pursuing some of these “approaches” (i.e., tactics).
First, recognize that “it’s not so much tricking shoppers as it is laying out a trail of breadcrumbs to lead them to believe they’re scoring time-sensitive deals. These strategies are especially evident during the holidays, but companies also use them periodically throughout the year.”
Therefore, the thought for what follows is, “Buyer Be Aware!”
And then respond appropriately.
Of a number of “techniques” listed in the article, there are a few that are missing.
This is the slow, intentional development of what are known as Hallmark Holidays. These were the creation of and popularization of special “Card” days, first such as Mother’s Day, and then Father’s Day, followed later by Grandparents Day, Sweetest Day, Boss’s Day, and Secretary’s Day.
The Hallmark Corporation maintains that it “can’t take credit for creating holidays” (that would be due more to the sheep-like cultural response to an external stimulus of a public who wishes to avoid unnecessary guilt-trips). The benefit to manufacturers of greeting cards, however, is clear.
The Disney “Magic”
I think one of the earliest intentional marketing “brandings” was labeling Disneyland the Magic Kingdom. It worked. The place was magic not only for kids with vivid imaginations but parents who experienced the magic of their kids being over-the-top enthralled.
Of course, like all magic, what we didn’t realize was what we didn’t see, the slight of hand that made it all possible by increasing the magical experience. And what Disney perfected, the Disney “Magic” that is not mentioned in the article as being seasonal, actually comes in two flavors.
The first flavor is the Disney “Slight of Queue.” This dates back to the late 1950s when the original Disneyland opened. Certain rides were very popular but no matter the time of day, the waiting line always seemed remarkably “reasonable” and so you would get the family into the line. While the line moved reasonably fast, you quickly discovered that it entered into a building, unseen from the outside, and snaked back and forth until it emerged at the entrance booth. Wait times could actually be over 45 minutes, but once in line, you were captive. Especially if you had little kids expecting that ride. This is now more or less a standard in most entertainment parks.
The second one should be called the Disney “Slight of Exit.” This is more recent, but involves the exiting of people from a venue by snaking them through the gift shop (the direct route to the Exit is not exactly a straight line). Museums use this to great advantage.
Now to the holiday list from the article.
We all recognize “Christmas Creep.” That’s when, well before it’s chilly out, “stores start blaring Christmas music over the loudspeakers. Black Friday isn’t until the end of November, yet retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart are starting to mark down prices — and notify shoppers about them — as early as November 1. Target ran a “Black Friday” deal on November 1, and Newegg ran one on November 2. Lowe’s has declared, paradoxically, that the entire month of November is “Black Friday.” (Avoiding any backlash that might come from calling it “Black November.” But, to be fair, remember Lowe’s is currently closing stores and trying to avoid the “Sears Syndrome.”)
Sales that are tied to a specific “Named” day
The slow evolution of consumerism, impulse buying, and our general craving for a good deal has led to the creation of countless shopping days that have basically become national holidays. No longer is there just a Black Friday — now, there’s Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, and Super Saturday, “all trying to capitalize on our collective case of the shoppies” (that’s the article author’s label, not yet medically recognized).
While Black Friday is the biggest US shopping (and headache) day of the year, these other “holidays” procure huge sales too. Last year, Cyber Monday turned into the largest online shopping day in American history, hitting a record $6.6 billion. Added to these are Amazon’s Prime Day and, in China, Alibaba’s Singles Day. The latter, which occurred on 11/11 (the reason it is named “Singles” is due to the “1’s”), eclipsed Prime Day by netting over $30 billion in sales.
The driving force of course is that, while the last two months are just 2/12ths of the year (16.7%, not eliminating holidays), they produce nearly 30% of a retail companies sales.
Herd mentality and the Fear Of Losing Out play a strong psychological role in our buying.
Putting credit in your store account
This is a variation on time-limited coupons (only 3% of which, statistically, are ever used), in-store time-limited discounts, and loyalty programs. This tactic, however, involves crediting customers store accounts with some amount of purchase dollars.
This is actually a much savvier method for a company to ensure a shopper will spend money than offering a discount. “If you offer a heavy promotion, the shopper will be trained to buy things on sale,” (Blog: this was the bane of J.C. Penney). Further, “giving someone a credit instead maintains the sanctity of a brand’s price and value. Plus, it lets the brand put a cap on their discount. A brand will make more money off you if they give you $25 to spend, as opposed to someone like J. Crew (Blog: or J.C. Penney), which marks things down to 30 percent to appeal to shoppers.”
Use it or lose it, even if it’s not actually there. The expiration date creates a sense of urgency.
Buy one, get one free
BOGO is a tactic we are all familiar with (especially in America). It works because “the most significant effect” on customers is that it convinces us we’re getting something for free.
It also works well during the holidays since we’re buying for others and think we’re getting something for ourselves to boot.
“Studies have found that BOGO is the promotion shoppers like most and the one that gets us to spend the most money. But watchdog shopping blogs have pointed out that products promoted through BOGO are often the things stores are trying to get rid of. Shoppers who’ve done the math have also found that BOGO items are actually overpriced, so in reality, BOGO means, ‘buy two at the regular price.’ “
The bottom line is that stores know shoppers aren’t thinking too hard about the value (and certainly not the math) since they’re in deal-hunting mode, and so they often fall prey to BOGO sales.
Selling things in smaller sizes
The holiday season is a time for “gifts,” so what could be more practical and appropriate than a Gift Set? Besides, these sets proliferate like rabbits and are most often placed on aisle end caps or check out lines where they cannot be missed, especially in beauty departments. The advice to shoppers is to research the price of the larger sizes, as customers are often duped into buying overpriced smaller bottles and thinking they’re scoring a deal because they come in sets.
In other words, look at, or figure out, the “price per ounce” or whatever unit of sale is being used. This is now by law common in grocery stores for price comparison for different sale quantities, but isn’t in the beauty or other areas. It is shocking to see two different sale quantities of a product, side-by-side in an aisle, with price-per-ounce differences of $6/oz for the “large” size and $45/oz for the “convenient” size.
Free gift with purchase
This is another common but not recent Beauty Department approach (i.e., tactic). Department stores have been offering little makeup bags and beauty samples to customers who hit a certain spending threshold — they know it’s practically a no-fail tactic to get shoppers to spend more.
This strategy “taps into the human desire to win,” since there’s a reward factor to spending money (this may be a unique American cultural effect). The gift often entices shoppers to drop extra dollars — you could spend $50 OR spend $80 and get something for free!
It works for me, too. Not in the beauty department, but in the hardware store. The corporate “cash discount” (time-limited) coupon applies only if you purchase at least $25. You don’t know how painful it is to stop at a $15 purchase and let that $5 coupon die a slow, pitiful, lonely death.
It all started with…
Discounts, of course. Sometimes stores used these to move discontinued merchandise (their rationale, basically, was “sell it or lose it,” referring to their wholesale capital investment. Better to “discount” and sell it near cost than to write it off.) “Going Out of Business” sales also fall into this category (even the off-price businesses that have been “Going Out of Business” for over 10 years).
Alternatively, they might use an “introductory” price with a new product the manufacturer wished to promote (here the manufacturer absorbs the “lost sales margin”).
Speaking directly to American cultural shopping psychology is a very old story (and, yes, it is misogynistic, sexist, and stupid. But bear with me, I won’t be finished yet). The story concerns the woman who comes home from shopping and tells her husband, “Honey, I saved $250 shopping today!” “How’s that?” he replied. “I bought a $500 dress on sale for $250.”
The story’s counterpart deserves to be told. My wife and I recently spoke about personal finances to a women’s group in central Pennsylvania. We specifically addressed the need, particularly as couples, to carefully identify and agree upon the differences between wants and needs and to set agreed upon priorities.
One woman asked the question, “How do you handle a case where the husband bought something he wanted when there were still important family needs?”
As I am often prone to doing, I spontaneously generated a more specific and vivid example, I thought, to help make the question more real. I replied, “You mean, for instance, the husband came home and said, “Honey, you’ll never guess. I saved $1000 today when I bought a new Remington over-and-under 12 gauge shotgun for my collection!”
The woman actually leapt off of her chair and screamed, “That’s what happened! How did you know?!”
There, now I’m done.