Retail Ninja Mind Trick #7: False Urgency

We enable the retail industry to create a false sense of urgency in our minds. It separates us from our money.

Today's post covers what is probably the most effective and subversive of all the ninja mind tricks consumers face. When retailers create a sense of urgency, bad things almost always happen.

To us, that is.

A few preliminary words on the semantics of the word "urgency"--after all, urgency isn't always a bad thing. If I'm gushing blood out of my carotid arteries, urgency can be a really good thing if it gets me in front of a competent ER doctor in time. Less dramatically, if I'm 100 pounds overweight and suffering health complications because of it, urgency here is yet another positive if it calls me to action to change my lifestyle.

However, when urgency is imposed on us in the retail world--especially in big-ticket retail--it usually calls us to action to buy things we don't need.

But why? Why place consumers in stressful, seemingly urgent situations?

Well, if there were no sense of urgency to buy things right now, hardly anybody would buy anything. Duh. The numbers are pretty compelling: if you have a customer who walks into your store, looks over your merchandise, and then leaves, the odds of him or her coming back and buying anything are practically zero.

And that's why salespeople will often start cutting deals the minute you make for the door.

Okay then. Right off the bat we've got one weapon that any empowered consumer can use to his or her advantage: get up and leave.

At best, you'll give yourself time to think through and decide if your purchase is really worth it--and save yourself from catching a whopping case of buyer's remorse afterwords. At worst, you'll unlock quick discounts from a salesperson who's scared you might walk out that door and disappear forever.

A related thought: What about those cheesy call-to-action phrases like "Hurry! Sale ends tomorrow!" or "Act fast--supplies are limited!" Modern, sophisticated consumers would never obey phony-sounding phrases like that, right? Those cliches can't possibly work on us any more, could they?

But then again, we consumers still do things like sleep out overnight to get our hands on the new iPhone. And we spend hundreds of millions of dollars after watching time-sensitive infomercials for things like Carleton Sheets' No Down Payment and P90X exercise DVDs.

Why? Essentially, because those phrases--as cheesy as they seem--still work. And the best retailers combine these phrases with other urgency-creating techniques (like creating the appearance of shortages, or simulating urgency with various discounting and couponing strategies and use other subtle techniques) to get us to buy. Now.

Rest assured, you are regularly tricked into feeling a false sense of urgency by many different types of industries, in many different circumstances.

Here's an idea. The next time you are about to make a big purchase... get up and leave. Give yourself time and space to think about it for a day or a month. Or a year. Defy the urgency. Remember, it's not like you're bleeding from your carotid arteries. If you still want the item, you can still buy it. Later. That car, boat, house, timeshare or Faberge egg will still be there waiting for you, right where you left it. And the price will probably still be the same. If not lower.

And the next time you see a sale about to end, or you're facing what seems to be an "opportunity" to make a big-ticket purchase at a seemingly temporary "sale" price, try this experiment: Let the sale end. Let some time pass, and again, if you still want the item, ask the salesperson or the manager to give you the discounted sale price.

You'll be shocked at how that sale didn't really end when you thought it ended.

Score one for the consumer.

Readers, what are your thoughts and reactions?

Next up: Conclusions

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chacha1 said...

I'm really good at this one. In fact, if there's a breathless advertisement about a limited-time offer, I am LESS likely to feel any interest in the product and more likely to think "yeah, right."

The way I see it, life is a long-term thing and spending should be based on a long-term plan. There will always be another ... whatever it is.

I guess that's one reason I don't go for "stocking up." If I lived in Alaska or Hawaii maybe it would make sense, but with ten different grocers within ten minutes of my home, just-in-time purchasing works for me. It brings a broader variety of fresher food into the house, and I don't have to pay any attention whatsoever to advertising.

Daniel said...

Chacha, it sounds like you think of false urgency the same way I think when I see heavily advertised products. It makes me NOT want the item. Thanks for an intriguing insight.


Little Les said...

I take so long to make a decision before parting with my money (the sales clerk outside my fitting room for the fifth time- "is there anything I can get for you, or did you die?"), that I NEVER get anything before the sale ends! :)