Why sales turn us into crazy people
"There’s something about the sale that hits us at a deep psychological level." Photo: Joos Mind
The moment the email drops, my fingers get into gear - n-e-t-a-p-o-r-t-e-r-dot-c-o-m. The Invisible Hand takes hold, forcing me to load item after item into my cart. And just like that, the money I saved from forgoing Gloria Jeans and unnecessary bus rides all year long is gone, within the matter of minutes.
The end-of-season sales almost inevitably lead to a string of regrettable purchases. A friend and I have even worked out a ratio of 2:5, two smart buys for every five needless ones. There’s something about the sale that hits us at a deep psychological level. We’re left dazzled by the spectacle of it all, walking into table displays and racking up shipping costs in a muddled, discount-induced haze. We override better judgement and good sense/taste in pursuit of that perfect item, knowing our life will be significantly better for having it.
And though we punish our weak resolves, retailers are also to blame, driving our compulsive, spend-fast behaviour with cunning tactics. Their subtle forms of manipulation (sorry to go all Today Tonight on you) go beyond eye-level displays and wafting warm bakery smells through the central heating system. They tap into our deepest emotions, telling our emotional, impressionable, irrational selves just how much we need that silk, Ikat-print jumpsuit.
The words ‘Black Friday’ conjure up fear in the hearts of many, inspiring images of fiery calamity, like something out of Revelations. Actual Black Friday (and Cyber Monday for that matter) can be just as terrifying. There are entire business models which tap into our fear of missing out. Think time-limited sale sites such as Gilt Groupe and Moda Operandi, generating panic buying with 24 hour flash sales, “trunk show” previews and slogans such as “ONE LEFT” and “LAST CHANCE”. There’s the feeling of “now or never” as emotions run high and items are recklessly dropped into carts (or “totes” as some sites like to call them).
We’ve skipped school/work to be here, we’ve already spent an hour lining up to get in, we’ve fought off a limber mother-daughter bargain-hunting team to paw our way through this bin, we better darn well make a purchase. Hauling ourselves to a sale is tough work. Just ask attendees at the latest Incu Garage Sale, which attracted a crowd large enough to rival the Occupy Movement. The amount of time we spend getting there and searching through racks can easily overshadow any rational evaluation of an item’s actual worth. After rummaging through a stack of mismatched shoes and faulty seconds, finding something of the right size and brand is like unearthing the tip of an ancient pyramid or the master tapes of your favourite grunge band.
Saving, Not Spending
When confronted with a discount of 30%, 50% or that classic trap, a discount on a discount, all coherent thought is tossed out with the clothes hanger. We cut short the process that goes into assessing whether or not we actually need a piece of clothing, immediately thinking we’re getting a crazy deal. The wave of buyer’s remorse only hits you when the disinterested shopgirl swipes your debit card or you receive an order confirmation in your email - such is the cruel, cruel nature of the end-of-season sale.
There’s nothing more demoralising or dehumanising than the sample sale - where mother-daughter-girlfriend bonding turns ugly. The setting brings out levels of bitchiness and hostility usually reserved for the netball court. After passing up an item initially, we’ll see some other woman trying it on, and proceed to hover creepily around her by the mirrors to stealthily reclaim what is rightfully ours.
The Lover Jumble Sale, from my experience, is like the Hunger Games of shopping, inspiring change-room tug-of-war battles over last-season Tilly dresses. Victors wear a good bargain like a badge of honour, attributing wins to skilful planning, focused effort and athletic prowess, while losers are left with crumpled lipstick-stained blouses and ill-fitting rompers in their wake.
A Disturbing New Trend
According to The New York Times, a curious phenomenon has emerged in our spending behaviour – drunken online shopping. The SUI trend is alive and well in online marketplaces, encouraging impulse buying for a fleeting moment of happiness - beware of one-click buying and special late-night sales lest you be made a victim!
What’s been your most regrettable end-of-season sales purchase?