"That colour really brings out your eyes."
"We don't know when we'll have them in your size again."
"They only made this specific model of laptop in a limited run to test the market."
In some ways, sales representatives are the masters of consumer psychology. Tasked with turning window shoppers into paying customers, they employ a series of techniques that can persuade even the most grizzled consumer into making a purchase he or she hadn't planned on.
From our vanity to our fear of missing out, sales reps have figured out how to key into the driving forces that lead us to commit to a purchase. The scary part is, they're so good at persuading us to buy that we frequently don't know we've been had until it's too late. So to try and arm you against these tricks, here are four common sales techniques that most people fall for without realising it.
1. Pouring on the honey
The most commonly used technique in any salesperson’s arsenal is flattery. Consumers, by nature, want to be validated for their purchases and no one is more willing to pour on the compliments than the attending salesman. They're always the first to tell you that the dress you're trying on is slimming or the car you're test-driving makes you look like an executive.
The surprising thing is that, even when customers know the flattery they're receiving is insincere, they still fall for it. Last year, a study at the Hong Kong University of Science revealed that all forms of flattery, sincere or otherwise, create a positive image of the flatterer in the mind of a customer. As a result, we unconsciously begin to trust the sales representatives more and make ourselves easier to push into making a purchase.
2. Perceived scarcity
Nothing motivates a shopper to commit to a purchase like perceived scarcity. For example, I was recently in a shoe shop where a customer was trying on a pair of designer high heels that were about £60 over her budget. After about 20 minutes of pacing through the store in the top-shelf shoes, the customer was still unconvinced.
The sales representative then told her that she should buy the heels even if it meant returning them the next day, because they were the last pair the store would get in her size for the foreseeable future. Then a second representative came over and told the young woman that she passed over a pair of heels by the same designer in the past and it took her six months to find the same shoes again.
If the young woman was thinking objectively, she might have realised that she could very well have found the same pair of shoes online for less than the store was charging. However, since she was already flirting with the purchase, the sudden manufactured fear of missing out on the shoes forever was enough to make her buy.
A study by Stanford University has shown that a fear of being "jilted" decreases our overall satisfaction with a piece of merchandise, but dramatically increases our desire to own it. Shops know this, so they run "limited supply" sales to generate the kind of fear that drives people to the tills.
Even when you book a hotel online, you'll see the "only two rooms left" tag attached to some reservation links. So, the next time you're tempted to buy something stop and ask yourself if you'll really never see the product again, or if you just think you won't.
3. The discounted markup
Shops often dramatically mark up the price of their merchandise just so they can offer a convincing discount when it’s time to make a sale. This most commonly happens at car dealerships, where the sticker price on some cars can be more than £1,500 above the manufacturer's suggested retail price. This way, the dealership can allow customers to talk down the price of the car and think they're getting a good deal when really they're just paying exactly what the dealership had hoped for all along.
4. Obligation through reciprocity
Our feelings of guilt and obligation can be powerful drivers when it comes to buying a product. Studies have shown that people naturally have a sense of reciprocity that leads them to believe that after something nice is done for them, they should do something nice in return.
To capitalise on this, sales staff often create a "give and take" scenario where they make you feel that they've done you a favour. For instance, if you can't find a pair of jeans in your size a shop worker will search through the stock room for multiple alternatives that you might find appealing. It's a simple gesture, but as a result, you'll feel more obligated to make a purchase from them.
The bottom line
If you want to control the amount of money you spend on shopping trips, you need to learn how to recognise these common sales techniques.
Once you're able to see through a sales representative's pitch, it will be easier for you to make an objective decision about the worthiness of any potential purchase. As a result, you'll be able to buy fewer things you don't need and save more money on the things you do. It might not be rocket science, but it's certainly smart shopping.
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