With the notorious holiday shopping season fast approaching I’m having nauseous visions of deals, coupons, free mass produced turkeys and hams, free shipping, wal-mart, and 40 percent off blow out sales. The visions are not only vivid and haunting they are actually true!
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t pass up a deal on a particular consumer item that I needed, but much of the typical consumer’s behavior and the retail and/or manufacture’s promotional tactics to sell a product are logic defying acts. Especially when you think hard about what the entities in question are trying to get you to do and what channels they are utilizing. Let’s look at a few examples:
1. Free Shipping. The typical ground shipping cost for a consumer electronic items like a GPS device or digital camera is between $7-$9 (I used Best Buy as an example). The typical cost for a middle of the road GPS device or digital camera is about $150-$250. Using common sense does it make sense to purchase an item you don’t need in order to obtain or “save” on free shipping? The answer, of course, is no. This tactic aims to bring a nominal cost, such as shipping, to the forefront of the shopping experience in order to downplay the actual cost of the item. Think actual need ahead of nominal savings.
2. Percentage off / Deals. The main tactic here, again, is highlighting a percentage off a certain item. You see the deals language lots a week or so before “Black Friday” (or the day right after Thanksgiving) so that retailers can attract foot traffic and curious shoppers. Often, if you look closely at the products being discounted they are not only items you can probably do without (mediocre electronic devices, men’s gloves made of fake leather, a set of 5 Teflon-like pans, etc.) but the quantity or model number is often limited. This is the same tactic car dealers use to lure you into the dealership in Sunday morning newspapers (i.e., you’ll see a ridiculously low price for a certain unreliable and gas-guzzling model which is often tied to a single VIN number). Again, think about whether you need the item ahead of savings measly 10-20 percent.
3. Coupons. The number of coupons sites on the web must double each and every day (I haven’t validated this, but it’s just a hunch). These days you can save twenty five cents on yogurt at ShopRite, get two large pizzas at Domino’s for $5.99, and find an oil change joint that will replace your engine oil and filter for $15. I have to admit that coupons don’t excite me, rather what excites me is value. For example, if I see generic yogurt on sale that contains tons of sugar and limited real fruit/flavor I’ll often pass on the sale item and spend an extra couple of cents per container because I’d rather purchase the brand that uses real sugar, organic milk, and fresh, real, fruit. With food specifically, I don’t want my choices of what I prepare for my family and myself to be influenced by a circular in the paper or a mass email campaign from Stop & Shop. The bottom line is that the choice in the food that I consume is something I value highly and don’t want influenced by saving, for example, five dollars at check out at my local market (this shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of elitist, East Coast, view, but rather a viewpoint that is centered on quality of life and the best choice).
Overall, when it comes to shopping and buying stuff (including clothes, food, shoes, consumer electronics, auto renewing services and subscriptions, etc.) I’m a big believer in putting 1. real need and 2. value ahead of spontaneous and pure “saving” shopping behavior. What I’m driving at is that you shouldn’t buy what you don’t need regardless of a blockbuster deal or free shipping and you shouldn’t let important consumer decisions, like food choice, be driven by coupons; instead, look for value when shopping (which I define as the best product for the best price).