Is Getting MORE Really Better?

As the Holiday Season fast approaches and the retail store messaging becomes louder and more insistent, it can't hurt to talk about consumerism for a bit, don't you think? Especially given the fact that retailers know that this is the time of year when we go well beyond our usual spending levels. They even depend on us to do just that. 

The levels of impulse purchasing is going through the roof—in supermarkets and everywhere else, too. Even big decisions are being made right there on the selling floor.
— p. 25, Why We Buy by Paco Underhill

We see these types of offers every day:

  • "Order the Value Size for just 20 cents more."
  • "Get the Extra Value Meal."
  • "BOGO"
  • "20% more"
  • "2-for-1"
  • "3-for-1"
  • "Bulk buying discount"
  • "Discounted upgrade"
  • "Do not pay for 24 months!"
  • "Ladies night. Bring a friend and save 20%."
  • "Buy a hot breakfast sandwich this week and get an extra 2 BONUS stars."
  • "Get an extra 20% off if you sign up for our store card"
  • "Get a $10 discount card if you spend $50 or more"
  • "Earn reward points with every purchase."
  • "FREE shipping on orders of $35 or more."
  • "20% of second item. 30% off third item. 40% off fourth item. 50% off fifth item!"
  • "FREE refills."
  • "FREE installation."
  • "Collect stamps towards a FREE gift."
  • "Get $2 off a carwash with every gas purchase."
  • "Get a $25 gift card with purchases of $250 or more."
  • "FREE gift with purchase of $40 or more."
  • "Exclusive offer. Limited quantities. Don't wait!"
  • "Members-only event."
  • ...and, if you're up and watching TV at 3:00am, you'll be familiar with this: "But wait! There's more. You don't just get one of these whatchamacallits. We'll send you two at no extra charge, plus this great set of cheap and useless accessories!"
I came across this lineup during our trip to Vancouver this past September. These ladies waited for hours to get into an Aritzia discounted merchandise event. I don't think they even knew what would be available.  CRAZY! 

I came across this lineup during our trip to Vancouver this past September. These ladies waited for hours to get into an Aritzia discounted merchandise event. I don't think they even knew what would be available.  CRAZY! 

The list goes on, and on, and it does because they work. They get our attention. Marketers know that we have a tough time passing up a great deal. FOMO* is a powerful force that can turn us into virtual shopping automatons.

And the offers get even more creative and aggressive this time of year:

  • FREE gift for the first 50 customers.
  • Don't miss our door crasher specials.
  • 2-for-1: Treat a friend this Holiday Season.
  • FREE gift wrapping.
  • Unbelievable! 70-80% off for the next two hours only.
Americans are infamously bad at saving money. The personal savings rate is currently about 4%. We all know it’s important to put away money for emergencies and education and retirement. So why don’t we do it? Because it’s a lot more fun to spend money than to lock it up in a bank!
— p. 97, Think Like A Freak by By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

The idea of looking for and getting a good deal is so ingrained in us that, for some, the concept of "saving money" only means not paying full price for your purchase. Scary stuff!

The economy even at its strongest can’t keep up with retailing’s growth. Judging from the birthrates, we’re generating stores a lot faster than we’re producing new shoppers.
— p. 24, Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
Shopping is a form of entertainment, just like the movies or the zoo.
— p. 289, Why We Buy by Paco Underhill

And it's not getting any better, given that growth in Retail outpaces population growth in the US. Shopping has gone beyond the acquisition of necessities and even beyond what some consider to be a recreational pastime. It's practically become a sport. How else can we explain the frenzy we witness around a 50% off special at the height of the season, the willingness to wait in line for hours in the hopes to get our hands on a hot product or a great deal? 

It's time to reconsider our behaviour.

Just because there's something on offer doesn't mean that we need to consider acquiring it, even if it's something we often buy. We need to ask ourselves the real reason we're wanting to make the purchase. 

Am I wanting to make this purchase because:

So much was about looking good rather than actually feeling good, actually being good.
— p. 161, Spent by Avis Cardella
  • I like all the other similar stuff that I've purchased in the past? If so, can I enjoy what I already own by making greater use of it instead of buying more? (tools, makeup, clothing & accessories, home decor) 
  • I really need it? Would I have bought it some time in the near future, regardless of the sale?
  • It's something I consume on a regular basis? If so, do I need to buy that much of it? (When it comes to food, buying more than we intended to consume can make us fat, but usually not happy after the fact...regardless of the deal.)
  • I want to become the type of person that owns this type of good or service? Will that purchase actually get me closer to that state? Is it to impress others or because I like it for me? (Acid test: Would I still buy it if no one ever saw me with it?)
  • I feel obligated to own it? If so, why? Am I in a situation where I want this obligation?
  • I haven't thought about alternatives? Substitutes? Am I settling for good enough just because it's on sale?
  • I'm worried I'll be missing out if I don't? What exactly am I missing out on? What's the likelihood I'll actually want this in a month's time? What's the likelihood there won't ever be another sale like this?
  • I'm bored and it's fun to buy something. Am I willing to spend just to be entertained? Is this really what I want to be doing or can I spend my energy and money in some other way?

Notice I didn't even bring up the question of affordability? That's because we can justify affordability in all sorts of different ways and, unless we're drowning in debt, it's not likely to be a lack of funds that stops us.

I used shopping to avoid myself. I used shopping to define myself. And at some point, I realized that I was no longer consuming; I was just being consumed.
— p. 3, Spent by Avis Cardella

The only way to stop our lizard brain from going on autopilot is by asking ourselves what emotions are driving the purchase. Only then can we really understand why we want to buy what's in front of us.

Buying is much more American than thinking.
— p. 131, Spent by Avis Cardella
How can a woman with a closet so full feel so empty inside?
— p. 98, Spent by Avis Cardella

Getting to a point where we're able to observe our thoughts and emotions while shopping is not only a treat (because we notice there's some really goofy stuff that happens between our ears at times) but it can also help us get off autopilot, get off the momentary shopper's high and enable us to stop ourselves from making a useless purchase that won't make us or anyone else in our lives better off. 

Considering every purchase can help us:

I watched the contents of my closet swell and realized that I had more than I could ever have imagined having and probably more than I could wear. Yet I always found myself hankering for more.
— p. 79, Spent by Avis Cardella
  • Reduce the amount of stuff that accumulates, unused in our homes.
  • Be more thoughtful in our personal purchases and in our gift giving. (How many singing bass wall mounts can the world really handle?)
  • Reduce the amount of mindless consumption we participate in on a regular basis (food & beverage, magazines, apps, toys, and other pacifiers pushed our way) that can hurt our wallets and our waistlines.
  • Ensure that when we do buy items, that we're buying something because we absolutely love it, not because we love the deal.
  • Save more of our hard earned money for what will make the biggest contribution to our wellbeing: spending time with those we love, acquiring what enhances as opposed to clutters our lives, giving generously of our time and money, and experiencing the best life has to offer.

Best of luck to you as you navigate the maze of retail spaces, both during this coming Holiday Season and in 2016 and beyond.

*FOMO: Fear of missing out.

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