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The Power of the Sale

It’s happened to all of us: You go to the mall to get a single eyeliner pencil and everything is going great – until you see the “SALE!” sign. Before you know it, you’re in line at an overpriced makeup counter to pay $75 for 75 tubes of mascara that you may never use in a lifetime. What is it about sales that draw us in even when we know we don’t need the items, and why do we feel the need to satisfy the often outlandish number of purchases just to say “I got a deal”?

“It happens to me all the time,” sophomore intended business major Breonna Norward said. “It’s like I know this is not what I came here for at all, but I just can’t let myself pass up a good deal!”

Lecturer and assistant director of undergraduate studies Professor Ryan Curtis shed some light on the consumer psychology of the sale.He explains that the contrast between purchasing and receiving something for free is a powerful strategy used to reel us in.

“When advertisers do sales, they try to make it seem like you’re getting a good deal so they make a contrast in your mind of what the normal price would be compared to the other price,” Curtis explained. “So when you buy two get one free– whenever you hear free– the contrast in your mind of having to pay to get one free, in your mind, is great.”

Companies, like J.C. Penney recently revealed, often artificially mark-up the price of items, just so when they put them on sale the psychological contrast between the original price and the sale price is great enough to tempt you into a purchase.  In theory, companies could just mark items down to begin with and not have to even hold sales.

Also, the limited availability of the sale creates a sense of urgency that we tend to succumb to.

“It’s always for a limited time. It creates a sense of sacristy,” Curtis explained. “So you feel like you have to hurry and get it right now or else I’m going to lose my chance.”

Clearly we have no real say in this. We are just defenseless psychological pawns in this game of chess against the big marketing evil geniuses, right? Not if Curtis has anything to say about it.

“You’re the one who buys it so in the end you have to blame yourself,” Curtis said.

Though our nature seems to be encouraging rash spending and our inner retail addicts don’t help much either, there are ways to defeat the power of the sale.

The next time you go to a store, try leaving your wallet with your bank and credit cards at home, and only bringing just as much cash as you need for your planned purchase. That way, even the most enticing sale has no effect on your bank account.

Try compiling a list wish list of not only everything you need, but also things you want. Itemizing everything your heart desires will reveal how much of your yearnings are truly necessary and can help you prioritize your spending.

Also, when everything is already down on paper, you can make these purchases knowing that they were thought out and intentional, therefore avoiding making premature decisions to satisfy a sale. 

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