Retail Ninja Mind Tricks: Conclusions

Readers: this post wraps up my monster series on consumerism and the retail industry. I hope you've enjoyed it, and as always I live for your thoughts, comments and feedback.

By now it should be painfully clear how our psychological biases can be exploited by the consumer products industry to get us to buy things we don't want or need. Look, if Budweiser can get us to associate bad beer with hot girls in bikinis, then--seriously--what can't they do? :)

And yes, plenty of companies make a living by taking advantage of our various cognitive foibles and blindspots. But let me make one point perfectly clear: I refuse to let my my readers wring their hands, whine, whimper, mewl, bitch, complain, shake their fists, or participate in any other acts of personal disempowerment because of the supposed power of the retail industry. I've made this statement many times here on this blog, but it bears repeating: Do not give your power away like that.

Instead, take action. Share this post series with others, start conversations about this subject, and educate the people around you about these concepts. Use your power.

Remember, no industry controls consumers. Instead, the exact opposite is true: We control all industries by deciding where and when we choose to spend our money. It is the height of disempowered hypocrisy for us to to complain about the consumer products industry when it merely sells us the products we consent to buy.

Again, don't give your power away. Instead, learn the game. Understand how things work--and that includes understanding how your own mind works. Be mindful of the mental foibles we have as consumers, and be even more mindful of how companies use those foibles to get us to buy more stuff.

For those readers perceptive enough to recognize their own psychological tendencies, what examples of psychological bias have affected your consumption and purchasing decisions in the past? Share in the comments so other readers can learn from your experiences!

I owe an enormous debt of thanks to Dan Gilbert's exceptional book Stumbling on Happiness, Nick Taleb's books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan and Tal Ben-Shahar's book Happier for prompting me to think about many of the issues described in this series of posts.

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Ronda said...

One of the mind tricks that has really irritated me is the bulk-buy scam. I am a very frugal shopper--I do lots of price shopping, constantly checking to find the best deals. I often buy in bulk when the prices are lower, but I get really frustrated when I find "family-size" or "best buy" deals in huge packages that are actually MORE expensive than buying multiple small packages. Grrrr! I've found that the warehouse type of stores are often not a good deal at all!

edj3 said...

@ Ronda, yeah I use a calculator and a price book (mental at this point) for those kinds of comparisons.

Mostly though I've quit reading ads, most magazines and the inserts in newspapers. Those are all designed to make me want things I don't need and won't use. And I include coupon circulars in that category too. When have you ever seen a coupon for a staple like plain rice or butter or normal eggs? If you have, please tell me where you live because I want to join you in paradise.

Daniel said...

Ronda: I couldn't agree more. That's a great example of a retailer taking advantage of our habituated assumption that you get products cheaper in volume. It's not always true.

And I think Kittiesx3 is onto something: making a practice of avoiding mainstream media. In many ways, it is specifically designed to make you want things you don't need.

Thank you both for the great insights.


oilandgarlic said...

Despite my best attempts, I am often fooled by neon-colored Clearance/Sale stickers. If a price is printed on bright yellow, it must be a deal, right? Obviously wrong! I do try to write down prices and have a mental record of some common items but I still get fooled sometimes.

I now try to stick to foods at supermarkets (unless I know the price well),and buy household goods and toiletries at Target or Walmart, unless there's a super sale at a drugstore. Again, knowing the actual average cost is key.

Cmills said...

Great post(s). I am going to share this. Many of these mind tricks I was aware of buy I too have been caught in a sense of urgency. Thankfully my father taught me well and big ticket items are never a problem. It does blow me away when I see many of my friends jumping into huge commitments or getting insurance when they could do a little research and find a good price without the insurance. Thanks for sharing this!

Daniel said...

Thanks for the kind words Cmills, I'm grateful. Glad you found it helpful.