How holiday sales capitalize on our impulses

A new tidal wave of holiday sales is coming.

Stores like Hollister, Zappos, and Macy’s email me every day to advertise discounts and remind me of the money I can save while shopping. However, in reality, none of these promotions financially help the shopper. Rather, they encourage me and others like me to make more purchases than I need. Psychologist Dr. Kit Yarrow pointed out in Time Magazine that the sale rush has “an addictive quality,” which further compels people to keep shopping. 

I used to be obsessed with China’s Single Day Shopping Festival and Black Friday in the U.S. As these big sale days approached, I would start making shopping lists and budget plans. But what usually ended up happening was that I was so attracted to a wide range of promotional items, I eventually lost track of the things I purchased and the money I spent—which of course always ended up being more than I originally planned. 

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Come holiday sale season, it’s almost impossible to be a rational shopper. The only secret to not getting duped into sales is to think of the product’s practicality before purchasing. Shoppers should be aware of the promotional wave the season brings and put their own financial health over their need to buy. 

From the perspective of customers, the trick to shopping is striking a balance between our desires and pragmatism. It sounds ironic whenever I’m about to swipe my card and make a new purchase. But I need to keep this balance in my head as a reminder to be reasonable while surrounded by a deluge of holidays ads and sales.

When I used to shop with coupons, I took advantage of items’ cheapness, which made me want to buy more without thinking about whether I truly need something. In other words, I purchased on impulse. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the term “impulse purchase” means a person buys without deliberating their purchase carefully. This action is often triggered by an emotional reaction to a product’s promotional message. 

In holiday-sale advertisements, merchants also capitalize on consumers’ herd mentality to imply messages, something like “other people have bought it and you should buy it as well to catch up with trends.” Fashionable products like well-crafted notebooks and candy bars are trendy, so they sell during these months even though they lack practicality. As a result, the average consumer evolves to have a need to act on their impulsive desires in response to advertisements. 

The act of impulse buying has been exacerbated today by the internet, which makes it even easier to buy. For a very long time, I was addicted to the convenience Amazon’s one-click purchase offers. By letting me avoid steps like adding items to the shopping cart, checking out, and confirmation, it saved me tons of time. If I ever saw a cool, fashionable item I would like to have, I just clicked it without comparing the price or considering how much I would use it. And then a few days later, it arrived at my home. 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoy this kind of shopping. 

Impulse buying is just an unhealthy and irrational outlet for me to relieve stress. To impulse buyers, irrational shopping is a way to “improve their mood” when they “experience less happiness,” writes Dr. Ian Zimmerman in Psychology Today

Many times, I regret getting new clothing or makeup products while impulse buying because even though something looked so good and shiny in the store, it loses its pizzazz once I’m home. I feel like I’ve wasted my money after I purchased them. Plus, every time I move to a new place, the cool-looking yet inevitably non-useful stuff had to be given away as I reorganize my room and wardrobe. 

Impulse purchasing not only leads to wasteful spending—it also has an impact on the environment, particularly for the clothing industry. According to the Los Angeles Times, 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by clothing production, which consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined. The rise of fast fashion also means people buy more and then dump out their old clothing at an increased rate. Huffpost found that the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing per year. 

Now, to all who struggle to make plans during the holiday-sale season, I say forget about those coupons and deals. These promotions have snowballing effects that lead to high consumption instead of financial benefits during holiday sales. From today on, your all-time shopping trend should be thinking before buying with a sustainable goal. 

 

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