In the last decade, marketers began using scientific research – neuroscience, cognitive science – to create their ads. It’s been very effective for increasing their sales. The impact on the consumer, though, is primarily negative. These methods bypass our rational processes. They either induce impulsive desires or, even more harmful, generate fear and anxiety that can only be soothed (we think) by making the purchase.
Black Friday is the season when the marketers use their best techniques, first to entice you into a store or onto a website, and then to make purchases – especially unintended ones. Here are 3 of their best mind tricks, with some tips for avoiding falling prey to them:
Black Friday is all about urgency. Doorbuster prices are only available for a few extreme hours. Great deals are available while supplies last. Tickets are handed out only to those standing in line outside the door. The lines themselves generate a sense of urgency: it must be important if these other people lined up for it. Some stores use rolling start times, with new doorbusters available every hour or two, arousing new urgency and inducing shoppers to stay in their store longer.
Pause a moment before the item. Imagine that you don’t purchase this item. Will your life be measurably diminished? Is it something that you have been planning to purchase? If you answer “No” to either of these questions, what seems like desire may simply be FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out – one of the most effective cognitive ploys. Tell yourself, “If I really need this later, I can buy it then,” and move on.
“Save 40% now!” say the ads. How can I save money by spending it? The ads create the impression that I’m destined to buy this item. So why should I pay 40% more at some future time when I could save that part of the purchase price by buying now.
Free Shipping can be false frugality. How often have you searched for another product to buy online so that you reach the minimum for free shipping? Retailers induce you to add a $17 product to your basket so that you can save the $6.95 shipping charge.
Having a list of items you might want to purchase in the next six months or a year is a great antidote. Think about each room of your home. What might need to be replaced? What would you like that isn’t there? Add anything you have some desire of purchasing – even electronics or other toys. Compare Black Friday’s impossibly good deals to your list. If you didn’t have any desire for it when you were thinking calmly, the urge to buy it is most likely Loss Aversion, another type of FOMO – “I don’t want to pay more later.” Guess what? If it’s not something you really wanted, you never have to pay anything for it.
Ads show similar items: three laptop computers, five artificial Christmas trees, two sets of pots-and-pans. One is highlighted as a Best Value because you get a mid-value item for just a little more than the least expensive option. Some have extravagant prices for features that don’t seem very important: 2 mm thinner, the newest fashion colors. These also create false value, making the mid-priced option seem like a good deal in comparison – and drawing your attention from the basic priced item that might meet your needs.
Rather than compare the three options to each other, compare them to your actual needs. One of our Sisters was considering buying a computer. She was worried about finding one that was fast enough, and that had enough storage and memory. She brought me an ad, and pointed to a mid-to-high end computer. “What about this? Is it good enough?” she asked. “That’s a great computer for people who work with large spreadsheets,” I said, “or who are doing a lot of graphic design work. It can store millions of pages of text and photos.” She looked surprised that I’d even mention such tasks, and said, “I don’t do any of that. I want something for, you know, the internet and writing letters.” We found a great price on a much simpler machine: its value matched her real needs.
In his Rule, St. Benedict offers another guard against marketers’ ploys: community ownership. While each person has use of their own clothing, bed and a few supplies, everything else – books, food, furniture, vehicles – are the property of all. In his day, no one had spending money: funds were given out for particular needs by the cellarer. Nowadays, Sisters have spending money for all the basic needs – imagine our poor treasurer if we had to ask for cash for every tube of toothpaste! Larger things, though, are held in common. A group of people thinking together are less likely to be swept off their feet by a slick-looking ad. So when you’re considering those Black Friday deals, talk it over with someone in your family. They might see the big picture more clearly.