Look, But Don’t Touch: Avoid Marketing Manipulation

By Fred Lee on 6 April 2009 (Updated 6 July 2012) 4 comments
Photo: zoetnet

If seeing is believing, then for a lot of shoppers, touching can be tantamount to buying. The reason for this, as explained in a recent article in the Journal of Consumer Research, is because when a consumer is able to make contact with an item, as opposed to simply looking at it, the mere act of touching it changes their perception of said item and actually creates a bond. Once this relationships is established, they are prone to give it greater value and as a result, more likely to purchase it.

This sort of reaction is rooted in the behavioral economic principle known as the endowment effect, which states that ownership, or in this case, perceived ownership, causes people to value something more than before they actually owned it.

Endowment effect is controversial in classical economic circles because it flies in the face of standard marketing doctrines that state that the price that a person is willing to pay for something (or on the flip side, the price they are willing to sell something) is based upon a logical and rational process of valuation, and shouldn’t fluctuate with ownership.

However, in countless experiments, it has been shown that is exactly what happens. In the article in question, students who were able to touch certain items reported a higher degree of perceived ownership, and were consequently willing to spend more to obtain it.

The take-home message is, when you go shopping, be careful what you touch, especially if you’re trying to save money. (See also: 6 C's to Keep You Frugal While Shopping)

If you’re like most people, however, even though you may see yourself as a logical and rational thinker, it’s hard to dispute the fact that marketing works, and is effective at getting you to spend your hard earned money, even when you know you shouldn’t be. People are just not machines, and we sometimes operate along irrational lines, doing things we know we shouldn’t be doing, and of course, buying things we know we shouldn’t be buying. This can be especially frustrating when you can’t afford to spend any more money because you either don’t have it or are in debt.

So if you think you might be the type of person who might succumb to the temptation of “touching and buying” (for the record, you are not alone), here are some helpful suggestions to take better control of your spending impulses:

1. Just stay away.

Obviously, the best thing would be to simply stay away from the stores in the first place. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. If you don’t see the products, then of course you’re not going to touch them, and by extension, you’re not going to buy them.

2. Empty your pockets.

If you feel it’s impossible to resist the urge to browse, then bring along limited resources. I.e., don’t carry too much cash, and whatever you do, leave the plastic at home.

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3. Avoid shopping as therapy.

Try exercising or talking to a friend to help you feel better. As everyone knows, shopping is a quick fix in the feel-good department, but it won’t be long before you’re tired of your purchases and are ready to move on to the next buy. (See also: 25 Ways to Feel Better Fast)

4. Save your receipts.

Hold on to them and wait as long as possible to tear open the packaging or remove the tags. You never know, after a good night’s sleep, you might very well decide that you didn’t need another fourteen speed blender, after all. Most big name stores will take things back, no questions asked, as long as the item is in reasonably new condition, but with a receipt you can get your money back, as opposed to a store credit.

5. Bring along a voice of reason.

Shop with somebody who will be a moral overseer and will force you to tone down your emotional justification for every purchase. A good candidate for this position is a more practical friend or sibling, or better yet, one of your parents, who would probably be more than willing to share their thoughts on your spending ways. Chances are, they did just fine without all the things you claim to need, and are probably experienced at encouraging you to exercise restraint.

6. Find a new hobby.

Shopping can be a precarious form of entertainment, especially if you’re not in the best financial standing. And deep in the back of our minds we must have some sense that amassing material possessions is not the ideal way to spiritual enlightenment, not to mention a bad use of our time. Not only are you spending your hard earned money, but for the most part, you’re probably not engaging in healthy activities like exercising, breathing fresh air, or eating wholesome foods.

That is not to say that you should never spend your money. That’s why we work, to buy things, even non-essential, frivolous things that purely just for fun. Just use a little common sense, and wherever possible, exercise restraint, because as many of us know firsthand, once you’ve tried on (and thus touched!) that sexy new pair of shoes or that beautifully tailored leather jacket, it can be hard to imagine that your life would be complete without it.

At times, it’s almost as if, dare I say, you already own it.

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Guest's picture

Great tips! "They" have done their homework and "they" know how to make you spend-- appealling to your senses and emotions are just some of the tools in their arsenal!

Fred Lee's picture

They know more about us than we're willing to admit, but maybe that's just the way of the world. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, and nice job on your website.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I had read this too, and was wondering how it applied to my shopping habits.  I think for the most part, this is true, and I'm really glad you brought it up.  I have a backwards method of "not buying" that might tip you off to how strange I am.  I love to put items in my cart that I'm not sure about buying.  Then I go around the store to finish my shopping.  If by the time I'm done, I'm not feeling absolutely awesome about my decision to buy, I put it back (or tell the cashier I've changed my mind.)  I seem to buy far less stuff this way.

Thanks for a great article!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Dana

I think those two - working or working at a hobby are excellent activities in helping one curb their spending behaviours.