Why bargain hunting can be a waste of time, money and mental health

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Why bargain hunting can be a waste of time, money and mental health

Sales draw a crowd, whether its Black Friday or Boxing Day. Theatrical or themed price slashes and arrays of deals create an irresistible package for the bargain-hunting shopper. Yet the idea of hunting bargains, of finding and pursuing them, may not be as helpful, or healthy for the mind or the wallet, as expected. Though events like Black Friday still attracts the largest number of shoppers in the retail calendar, each year retailers are more and more prone to upstaging their most promoted seasonal sales with more cost efficient presales. In this landscape the question of what actually makes a good deal is more confused than ever.

Retailer’s intend to stack sale on sale, and discount on discount 365 days a year. There is an endless flood of sales-marketing and the potential redundancy of bargain hunting. Often, so-called bargains might better be seen as bait, carefully laid to inspire unnecessary and superfluous purchasing. Savings are no longer savings if they are not reductions on already expected payments. Purchases become wasteful when made for the sake of the sale. The use of the sales to inspire needless buying makes the combination of marketing promotions and price slashing a revealing balancing act played by retailers to exploit shoppers’ savings instincts.

How can a shopper, in a world full of bargains, spot the difference between a real and a false saving? Retailers use many clever tricks on known consumer behaviour to maximise their profit from sales. The most effective means to combat misdirected bargain hunting and unwise purchasing begin by combating habits in the shopper’s head. It is a mix of clever sales techniques and confused customer psychology that leads to extravagant but unwise sales spending. We will walk you through the latest trends and evidence that suggest bargain hunting may be overrated.

When Saving becomes Searching: how sales motivate unnecessary spending

Sales can be effective ways to save money. However, optimum consumer saving comes when sales align with long sought products and services. Thereby lowering the money we were expecting to spend and provoking a healthy purchase. But as Trent Hamm, founder of the The Simple Dollar writes, the act of bargain hunting can soon descend into ‘simply seeking out low prices and accumulating stuff for the sake of accumulating stuff.’ Humans naturally love to collect. Retailers know this.

Once bargains become hunted, even for their own sake, any savings gained by necessary purchases are immediately offset by the unnecessary purchases. These unnecessary purchases are commonly motivated solely by sale prices or effective marketing. This effect can even cross over with seemingly necessary purchases. Deals are applied to purchases of multiple items like 3 for 2 discounts. In these cases, a single item would suffice, yet higher quantities are purchased under the illusion of savings. As a result, consumers spend more with ‘the clearance rack winning out over practical matters’ in the words of John Tesh.

Buying more than you need from a sale may also increase consumption or waste, both of which we never intended. Stocking up on products that are perishable can lead to wastage. Furthermore, consumers may tire from consuming a product they hoarded during a sale, which may create waste if eventually disposed. Additionally, if a consumer buys a large volume of product, they may be more likely to divulge in excessive consumption.

From Hunting to Addiction: new health news about our search for sales

The effectiveness of sales and their marketing is leading some to question if bargain hunting can become an addiction. At Psychology Today, Dr Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D., Professor of Behavioural Addiction, has questioned if bargain hunting could be classed as an addiction. The tactics employed in sales exploit out psychology to motivate purchases. Retailers feign a bestowing of power to the consumer who feels in control of their accelerated and seemingly savvy purchases.

The signs of bargain hunting addiction might well be so hard to spot because they are so common. A 2017 survey by Valassis, a leading marketing technology firm, found that 53% of shoppers admitted to spending over two hours a week on the lookout for bargains. No doubt this trend is motivated by the seeming efficiency of the web, its speed ands its search functions. But such a large amount of time being consumed on the hunt for bargains suggests money lost elsewhere. This is most often on enjoying pre-existing purchases, refraining from upcoming purchases, or using this time lost to bargain hunting to make money.

The Price of So-called Savings: the opportunity cost of sales-hunting

Statistics demonstrate how much time the average shopper spends on the hunt for deals. Nagesh Belludi at Right Attitudes calls these opportunity costs, putting concrete numbers behind the old adage that time is money.

Opportunity costing allows the average consumer to more effectively value their time. By working out the rough value of an hour of their time by dividing their salary by 2000. With each hour of our time clearly costed in financial terms, those two hours a week spent searching for deals look less economically appealing than they did before. Large amounts of time spent pursuing ineffective deals might well cost more of your time and money than can be justified by the savings you believe you have made. Opportunity costing allows better prioritisation of what really matters personally and financially.

Wish List and Watch Lists: the effects of online savings

More and more online retailers and market platforms are continuing to emphasise instantaneous purchases and fast delivery as central elements of their shopping platforms. These characteristics of online shopping are combined with other methods that promote a sense of urgency in response to sales. Live timers will count down not only on auctions, but on sale prices. This usually occurs around large festive sales, with webpages flashing urgent numbers and once in a lifetime savings. This confusion is heightened by subtle additional costs.

Lookout for discounts lost through the checkout funnel

Online retailers will often tout their low prices and savings on product pages. The details of additional postage prices are pushed later down the checkout process. Usually, when customers will be most invested in the purchase. Under these circumstances a buyer might be more inclined to purchase an order even though postal prices eliminate any of the financial gain made from the item’s sale price, perhaps even paying more than usual for the option of next day delivery.

This urgent online atmosphere is exacerbated by features of mobile shopping accounts like wish lists and watch lists. These functionalities alert the consumer about price changes, increasing the sense that items are not around forever. Thereby allowing the bargains to intrude out of the shopping experience into our daily routines with eye-catching notifications. Additionally, a profusion of apps and extensions claim to optimise the hunt for bargains by automatically sourcing relevant coupon codes. One such provider is the chrome plugin called Honey. These tools only add to a sense of illusive life-changing savings surrounding the consumer on all sides. This atmosphere inevitably provokes an economically unsound approach to bargain hunting. Where the shopper seeks deals everywhere, unaware that the very superfluity of these deals renders them suspect.

Increasing online and mobile optimization by the retail sector might be effecting our approach to shopping and bargain hunting. Ultimately leading to a negative effect on our mental health.

Turn Bargain Hunting to Bargain Honing: a new approach to making savings

The world of sales, bargains and deals has always been complex. Now, this is all further complicated by our approaches to bargain hunting. A renewed attention to our habits and our temptations to purchase in excess of our needs can help. It takes a subtle eye for the right techniques to understand our superfluous purchase. The urge to bargain hunt can be bought back under control. A greater respect for the value of our time, our money, and our mental health will help.

Wrap up

By focusing only on deals that align themselves with our pre-budgeted plans, and relinquishing the desire to hunt for bargains without a set goal, the health of our finances and minds will be protected. It would be best to shift from an attitude of bargain hunting to bargain honing, with the consumer cutting through the noise and clamour of the market to utilise only those deals that most effectively line up with long wished for purchases, allowing the presence of sales and bargains to augment the shopping experience, rather than guide it.