Today, I'd like to broach the subject of how to navigate special purchases: travel and airport buys, sales seasons and other time limited offers. I have been raised to believe it was smarter to wait for a discounted price to purchase something, but most marketing tricks and traps are based on time limited events or discounts. How to navigate these opportunities without being manipulated ?
As a consumer, I have been educated to be smart and get the cheapest price I can for one given item quality, but as a marketer, I know limited editions and other discounts are a way to make people buy what they don't really need. Think about it, if people only bought on sale what they buy full price anyway, nobody would ever make discounts (and that's why some luxury brand classics are never on sale, they know people buy it anyway).
These special operations (airport exclusives, seasonal exclusives, discount weeks, sales...) are here to lure us into the (e-)shops and tempt us to buy what we otherwise didn't need and wouldn't have bought. Based on my own experience, education and marketing background, here are a few personal thoughts on how I'm trying to be the smart consumer my mother taught me to be.
Know The DrillFirst, I think it's important to be informed on how these operations work from the marketer's standpoint. It's always easier to find your own interest when you understand what the brand's interest is, and what they are trying to make you do. Here are a few examples.
- Sales Season: In most countries that is regulated. Twice a year, the dates are given in advance, and that's a way to get rid of the current collection before putting the new ones in store. The one thing to be mindful of is retailers who increase the price just before sales to be able to claim a bigger discount. that's forbidden in France but legislation may be looser in other countries. In general, sales can bring good deals as most brands functioning on a seasonal basis (clothes, home decorations etc.) need to sell the rest of their stock to make room for the new season to come. Sometimes they dig out older stuff, but as long as you check the overall quality, it doesn't really matter when it dates back from.
- Specific, time-limited discount operations: The best example I have in mind are the regular 'private sales' organized by a department store or a chain store (Sephora for example). These are interesting if it concerns the whole store (or most of it), as you can wait for the next one to come in and stock up on what you need during that week. It is much less interesting when it only concerns a selection of products (like Comptoir des Cotonnier's mid season sales that concern some 15-20% of the collection only), as the goal is to attract the consumer with a few bargains but the really interesting pieces usually aren't discounted, but once you're here, you may be tempted to buy them.
- The time (or space) limited exclusives: Many brands love to produce limited editions - for the opening of a new store (like Uniqlo le Marais exclusive jeans for example), for the season (Autmn nail polish limited edition), for special occasions like Christmas, or airport/travel size collections. The technique is: provide something in limited quantity to create a sense of scarcity (there won't be enough for everybody) and urgency (if I don't buy it now it will disappear). Some brands' concept is based around this, like Sézane (which style and philosophy I otherwise like), who creates monthly collections put online at a specific date and time so clients have to hurry lest their size runs out of stock. My opinion on it is: be wary. Of course, if you are looking for a specific item (say, bronze nail polish) and you happen to find the perfect one in the fall limited collection - then go for it, but the reason for purchase should come from your needs and criteria, and not the fact that it is a limited edition.
- Bulk Discounts: I'll end these examples with this one. Buy 2 get one free. Get free shipping for orders over XX€. Get this free pouch if you buy XX€ worth of products... These are textbook techniques to increase the average user revenue - how much a customer spends in average in one visit. You came in for a 6€ hand cream, but you get this free gloss sample if you buy for 20€, so you add to your basket a 15€ item that you didn't really need just to get the sample (or free shipment, or 10% discount...). My advice on this one is also: be wary. If you were planning to purchase 50€ worth of items and happen to get a discount or free shipping, or if you just need to add a 5€ pair of socks that you know you will use to save 10€ in shipment, then yes, use this opportunity. But if it makes you spend much more than you intended, or buy things you don't need, then be wary.
Always Start From Your Needs and WishesWhen I do need or want to take advantage of these offers, the best parade I found as a consumer is to come prepared, with a list of items or item types that I need, and stick to it. Here are the things I take into consideration when I make that list:
- Is there anything I may need from what this store offers? Daily items about to be depleted, an item from my List of the Possible, something that is broken/worn out or on a good way to be...
- Is there anything in that particular offer I can take advantage of? For example: a general discount to buy expensive products which usually are never discounted, travel sized items at the airport because you are currently making tests on this particular area and it's easier to test on smaller products in case it doesn't work...
- Would I have bought this item in a regular situation? If that very same item, at the very same price, was a regular buy from the regular shelf (not a self proclaimed discount or limited edition), would you consider buying it? (I don't consider the proverbial "would I have bought it full price" because I do take advantage of reductions to buy a quality I otherwise can't afford so it doesn't work in my case)
- Is this item adequate for my needs? Will I use it? Is there another item I already own which does the exact same job? - Finally, I ask myself the basic questions I ponder for any purchase, even in regular situations. The items should correspond to your needs, quality and ethic standards, fit with your preferences etc.
As we all know, there is no such thing as being immune to marketing, and there will always be cases when we will indeed make a good bargain but on something we didn't quite need. And that's OK, because from mistakes comes learning and growth.
One last piece of advice I could give is to not only come prepared, but also with your willpower in full speed - so not when you are tired, frustrated or any other state that tends to make you vulnerable. Better yet, why not make it a fun trip? I know I hate shopping - particularly for beauty products as these stores reek of a terrible perfume mix that gives headaches. But when I receive my little discount coupon from Sephora, I enjoy going through my products, making an assessment of my current stock etc., then crafting a list of what I'm going to purchase. I turn it into a small event.
In the end, it's about playing the marketer's game, and taking advantage of it, as much as we can. Most of the time, it will mean shunning these "attractive" promotions. Since I started paring down my collection of items and turning to more qualitative and ethical options, I have used sales and discounts to buy a level of quality and craftsmanship I otherwise can't afford or don't want to pay full price for (e.g. cashmere knits). What about you? How do you navigate these "special events"?