I myself, fell into the trap of the post-Christmas sales this year and felt trapped between my lust for yet more material possessions that I simply didn’t need at reduced prices and my bank balance screaming for me to stop driving myself further and further into my overdraft. And I’m not alone, thousands flock to events such as Black Friday when a limited number of items are discounted heavily – some even go as far as fighting one another for the items. But why? Common sense dictates that we, as intelligent human beings should be able to reason our way out of unnecessary sales purchases, but marketing schemes plot against us and exploit our every psychological weakness, and boy are they exploited.
It may be surprising to hear that adults behave very much like toddlers in so much as when we are told that we cannot have something, it simply makes us want it more. In social psychology this involves social proof, scarcity, commitment and consistency. These are key principles of Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence (2007) and have been proven to have extremely strong effects as repeatedly demonstrated in research.
The above graph is taken from Verhallen and Robben (1994) showing availability (both accidental and popularity) and the effects on sales of books - a clear illustration of what's at play in these online shopping experiments, in that when a product is scarce it affects our choices to purchase it.
Both of these devices are at play in the case of online shopping, as when browsing websites, users are bombarded with adverts, pop-ups and emails about limited stock/time deals and research has shown that when there are fewer items remaining, each item is rated as more attractive by participants. In the case of Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975) these limited items were cookies in a jar (as shown above), and unfortunately in my case they were clothes, shoes and makeup that I did not want, need or ask for yet the powers of social persuasion tricked me into thinking I did.
Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. S.l.: Collins.
Verhallen, T. M., & Robben, H. S. (1994). Scarcity and preference: An experiment on unavailability and product evaluation. Journal of economic psychology, 15(2), 315-331.
Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 383-389.