Why did I buy that?

Have you ever looked around your house and ask, “why did I buy that?”. Or come out of a shop with a new powertool and later thought, “what was I thinking?”. Chances are you have fallen prey to clever sales marketing and product placement. I think we have all fallen prey to these moments of post purchase regret. With a growing range of products now available, the marketing is only getting more pronounced and difficult to avoid.


Tactic one – Creating scarcity

Have you ever seen an advertisement declaring “for today only” or “only 200 left?" These types of ads are structured to make us feel a sense of urgency. Another example is black Friday. Kiwis spent $219 million on this one day in 2017. Over 30% higher spending than a normal Friday.

Marketers do not like us to think too much. If we think a lot, then we are likely to convince ourselves away from making a bad purchase. But by making something “urgent”, marketers take away our ability to think since we don’t have “enough” time. We are more likely to rush into making a bad purchase that we regret later on. No one likes the feeling of missing out and marketers prey on this feeling.


Tactic two – Foot in the door

There are plenty of opportunities to get a free introduction to products and services. One obvious example would be Lightbox. They tend to offer one-month free viewing to new customers. By doing so, Lightbox will get customers signing up for the free month that may not have done so without the free period offer. Sure, some of those customers will leave when the free period expires. But more importantly, some will also stay beyond the first month and convert to a long term paying customer. Lightbox have managed to get their feet in the door of many customers that would not have opened their door if not for the free offer.

This is not always free stuff either. It could just be an extremely low-priced item (also called a loss leader), just to get you in the store. Marketers know that we are generally reciprocal human beings. When we receive a good deal, we feel like we have to repay the favour. So not only do we purchase the loss leader item, but we repay the company by purchasing something else.

How many times have you seen an advertisement for up to 50% off everything only to find just one item in the entire shop at a 50% discount? The key trick used here is the use of the words “up to”. Most discounts are generally 20% or less. But they got our foot in the door.


Tactic three – Framing

When we are faced with a choice between two or more products of similar quality, we tend to compare them against one another. Framing one option as a loss, and one as a gain. Marketers will deliberately adjust the price or description of one product, to draw a customer to the product they want us to buy.

For example: We are more likely to purchase meat that is labelled as “80% lean meat”, than we would “20% fat.” Or when purchasing an annual subscription of some sort, it is often to entice you to lock you in for one year. This is not a bad thing if it is a product/service you are satisfied with.

Framing will focus on the positives, instead of the negatives, to draw our attention towards the positives.


Tactic four – Bandwagon effect

We are creatures of habit, and we have a natural tendency to follow the crowd. Especially when making a choice on products that we may not be too familiar with. We look for cues to help us decide, and if we notice the product we are looking at is the most popular, then we will feel pretty comfortable purchasing this. Retailers use words such as “most popular” all the time to put us at ease. Again, a relaxed shopper is more likely to drop their guard a bit and make the purchase.

We often place high weighting on customer reviews on websites and search engines. Just be careful of such ‘5 star’ reviews – there is no reason why these reviews may not be unbiased and trustworthy. We do value popular outside opinion and marketers are aware of this. Customer reviews are generally more reliable than descriptions generated by the manufacturer though.


Tactic five – The decoy

When customers are presented with a third option to prompt us to purchase the higher priced of the original two options.

Let’s say we are looking to purchase a cell phone. Cell phone A has all the qualities we are looking for in a phone but costs $1,000. Cell phone B doesn’t have as good a camera or battery life but just costs $700. It may be a difficult decision to make. But what if we introduced a third option? Cell phone C costs $1,000 as well but it doesn’t have as good a camera and battery life as cell phone A. Suddenly cell phone A is looking very good by comparison.

The pricing of cell phone C has been used as a decoy to get us to purchase cell phone A – the more expensive of the original two phones we were looking at. Restaurants often have high priced items too, to make everything else look a bit more affordable by comparison.


Tactic six – Free shipping

This has come into play with the proliferation of online shopping. In reality though it isn’t free. We must spend up to a certain level to reach the fee shipping threshold. For example, we may be interested in purchasing a $30 book from an online retailer, but there is free shipping for all orders $50 and above. We may then start looking for another book to purchase (that we didn’t necessarily want), just so that we qualify for the free shipping. Who doesn’t like free stuff right? The problem is we have spent $20 more than we originally planned to get our ‘free’ experience.


Tactic seven – Anchoring

Anchoring is the practice of giving the customer the original price and the new, discounted price. For example, we may typically purchase a T-Shirt for $30, but if we see one that has been discounted from $100 down to $50, we may be more inclined to purchase that one. It is half price after all. We have ‘anchored’ the $50 price, against the original $100 and told ourselves it is a bargain. This is despite the fact we were not originally planning to buy a T-shirt for more than $30.


Tactic eight – Bulk discounts

How often have you had the intention of only buying one thing, but come out with two or three. Clothing retailers are very good at this where they give a discount not on the original item, but on any subsequent items. For example, “buy two get one free”, or “buy one and get the second at half price.” We are not getting a discount on the item we wanted, but we are tempted to buy more just so that we can feel like we are getting a deal.


Tactic nine – Social approval/appeal

Exactly what it sounds like. Products that are marketed towards our desire to be wanted by the opposite sex, to make other people jealous, and to make us feel more popular. Lots of diet products and exercise equipment are marketed in this way. We are sold on the idea of being transformed to an idealised life of bliss, much like a dream. We start to think about this ‘better’ life. Of what the product can give us, instead of the actual product itself. It is a clever trick because we all like to dream.

The other social technique used is trying to make us feel like an outcast by not purchasing the product. This all feeds in to our innate sense of wanting to belong and keep up with the Joneses.


Tactic ten – Your long-lost friend

I experienced this one in Thailand many years ago, and fell for it hook line and sinker. This is where the retailer makes you feel very comfortable and is talking with you like a buddy would. I went into a shop looking to purchase a tailor-made suit. I was immediately greeted by a friendly salesman who greeted me “g’day mate” (he thought I was Australian) and gave me a beer!  When he found out I was actually a kiwi, he re-greeted me with his well-rehearsed kiwi greeting of “Kiaora bro” in his thick Thai accent. Of course I had to buy a suit now. I have worn it once in the last 15 years, as it was poor material and not well tailored.

This tactic is so powerful because we stop thinking of the salesperson as a salesperson who is after our money. We start to think of them as a friend who wouldn’t do anything to wrong us. Car salespeople are good at this. It is about building our trust. This is ridiculous though, as they don’t want to be our friend. They want our money!


Tactic eleven – Constant communication

We often give out our contact details to so many people over time, when using the internet. Signing up for e-mail subscriptions, grab one deal sites, shopping logins, and so on. There are a lot of companies out there with our name, e-mail addresses and preferences.

Have you ever wondered how Facebook seem to always place ads that are well suited to your likes? They have our information.

It is ok saying “no” once to an ad that is targeted towards us. But it is much harder to say “no” over and over again. The ads do not stop. They keep popping up. This relentless communication often results in us caving and buying a product we may not have been that passionate about.

When shopping online, have you ever put an item in your cart then decide not to buy the item and exit the site? Often you will receive a follow up email from the company along the lines of “we missed you” or “is there something wrong?” It is hard to keep refusing.

Ironically though, I do use this strategy of getting discounts. I deliberately seek this form of communication. It must be used for something you want, or it is a waste of money. You just put an item you want in your shopping cart, exit the website, and more often than not the manufacturer will come back with a “where are you” message and offer you a discount.


Tactic twelve – Would you like fries with that?

This is all about the upgrades. You have already made a purchase, but now the company tries to convince you that you need more things to go with that product or service.

Purchased a burger – do you want fries?

Purchased a car – Leather seats would sure look nice

Purchased concert tickets – premium seats would get much more of the action


Final Thoughts

By exploiting our vulnerability to different style of propaganda, companies can trick us into buying more stuff and paying more for it. I have fallen prey to many marketing tactics in the past. We hate the feeling of missing out on the deal of the century, so we often succumb to marketing tricks. The fear of missing out is real and marketers are fully aware of this.

These are only tricks if we end up with more than we wanted. If we don’t deviate from our initial wants, we can actually take advantage on some of the free and low-priced stuff. This obviously requires discipline and a knowledge of the discussed tactics also helps.

Everyone is after a slice of our money. Knowing where you may be influenced by clever marketing is a great first step to saving some of your hard-earned cash from ending up where you didn’t want it to go.



The information contained on this site is the opinion of the individual author(s) based on their personal opinions, observation, research, and years of experience. The information offered by this website is general education only and is not meant to be taken as individualised financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, or any other kind of advice. You can read more of my disclaimer here


What other marketing and sales tricks have you experienced? What are your biggest purchase regrets?