Are You Really in Charge of Your Choices?

A few things marketers don't want you to know

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Are You Really in Charge of Your Choices?
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Throughout the most part of 2020, COVID-19 confined shoppers to their homes and left high street retailers struggling. But it hasn’t held back some of the online retailers from thriving. Amazon Prime Day, for example, saw the revenue of third-party sellers jump by nearly 60% from the previous year. And Alibaba’s Singles Day sales marked record growth too, bringing in a staggering $75 billion.

Clearly, the pandemic hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of holiday shoppers, particularly the impulsive ones. In fact, impulse shopping has grown by 18%, according to a 2020 poll.

But why are perfectly rational individuals making incredibly irrational choices when it comes to purchasing decisions? It’s often because your ability to make choices is influenced and manipulated all the time.

Restraining Your Ability to Compare

Comparing products helps you put things in perspective. And this is important to determine whether the unbelievable deal in front of you is actually as phenomenal as it may seem. In fact, comparing alternatives is an important step in the Consumer Buying Process. And marketers already know this. This is why they go to great lengths to make you skip this essential step and advance straight to the purchasing stage.

How do they do it? Limited-time offers and limited editions are some of the common tactics. They are designed to create a sense of urgency and feed you with a notion of scarcity and a fear of losing out. So, you’re overwhelmed into a quick purchasing decision by skipping the time-consuming process of comparing products.

Deliberately limiting choice is another strategy. Marketers know that providing too many options to compare could lead to lost sales, triggering what behavioral psychologists call the “choice overload.”

Image courtesy: Franki Chamaki via Unsplash

Fueling Your Thirst for Choice

While some are doing their best to prevent you from comparing products, there are others who will encourage you to compare more. They’re making money by feeding your desire to compare alternatives before making an informed purchasing decision.

In fact, some companies are making a staggering amount of money by providing comparisons of flights, hotels, and insurance, among other things.

If you really think about it, none of these businesses are selling anything. They are making money by fuelling your thirst for choice. They earn affiliate commissions every time you make a purchase using their links. So, their ability to influence your choice leaves much for them to gain.

Personalized Recommendations

Every year, marketers spend millions of dollars to gather intelligence so they can understand their customers better. They know that personalizing their products and communications to your exact needs can assure them of a better chance of closing a sale. In fact, personalized recommendations are estimated to account for 47% of impulse buying and 44% of repeat purchases.

This is why many businesses are betting on AI technology to influence your purchasing decisions. They’re closely watching your digital behavior to provide you with more relevant product choices and increase their chances of making a sale. Recommendation algorithms are responsible for an estimated 35% of Amazon’s revenue and 75% of what people watch on Netflix.

But it’s not just limited to consumer goods and entertainment. There are many others making millions of dollars by recommending choices. Take Google, for instance. It’s spending around $1.5 billion in the U.K. alone to get the default search engine status with companies like Apple. And for a business like Google, it’s worth every cent. It’s making much more by charging companies to influence your choices with services like search results, Google Ads, and Analytics.

The bottom line is, personalized recommendations are influencing your choices in almost every facet of life, even in political campaigns. The widely covered Cambridge Analytica controversy is a good case in point. It shed light on data harvesting techniques used by political campaigners to build voter profiles and influence voting decisions.

Creating Needs That Never Existed

As the market gets saturated with hundreds of products catering to personalized customer requirements, some clever marketers will even create non-existent needs on your behalf.

The world didn’t need a fizzy sugary drink until Coca-Cola was introduced in 1886. And today it serves 22,000 drinks every second. This is the power of marketing.

It’s what drives people to queue up for days to get their hands on the latest iPhone or the Harry Potter book — coincidently, both of which we have lived without until two decades back.

The truth is, you’re being lured all the time to fulfill needs that never existed in the first place — with promises of hope, pleasure, comfort, convenience, inclusiveness, and prestige.

What Would Life Be if You Buy This Product?

There are two types of questions you can ask yourself when faced with a tricky purchasing decision — “what would life be if I don’t buy this product?” and “what would life be if I purchase this product?”

The first question helps you imagine the worst-case scenario of a life devoid of the product in question. How bad is the impact? Will you survive? It gets the logical part of your brain working and has a greater ability to dissuade you from an impulsive purchase.

But this left-brain thinking is bad for sales. So, brands will do everything possible to make you focus on the second question instead. This is why many marketers design advertisements to help customers imagine what life would be like when using their products — by showing someone relishing the pleasures, comforts, or the prestige gained by using them. Take a look at this Old Spice ad, for example.

Video Courtesy: Old Spice via YouTube

The Manipulative Wordplay That Tips Your Choice

Writing sales copy and designing ads are art forms that make use of plenty of science-backed findings. And without your knowledge, the content you’re consuming is manipulating your decision choices.

Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton University, speaks about the Rule of 100 in his New York Times Bestseller “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.”

He asserts that dollar value discounts are more effective for products priced over $100, while a percentage discount will yield more sales when the product is priced less than $100.

For example, studies have shown that “$500 off” is more appealing than “20% off” for a product priced at $2,500. This is often because the dollar value seems larger. It also helps customers to understand the real financial impact of the discount.

The truth is, there are sales pitches all around you disguised as ads, promotions, and marketing materials. You’re consuming curated visual, auditory, and kinesthetic content all the time. And they are influencing your ability to make objective choices.

Taking charge of your choices

From price discounts and bundled deals to limited-time offers and limited editions, marketers have traditionally applied a long list of proven tactics to persuade shoppers into hasty purchases.

And these measures are not just based on marketing principles, but also on findings from scientific behavioral research.

But there are other external factors that could influence your purchasing behavior.

For example, studies show that both hunger and stress can have a negative effect on decision-making and impulse control. And when you’re tired in the evening, you are less likely to exercise self-control compared to the morning hours.

Whether you’re influenced by clever marketing tactics or unrelated external factors, one thing is for sure if you don’t curb your impulses. It will burn a hole in your pocket and could often leave you with post-shopping remorse.

(This article first appeared in Better Marketing)

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