Beware: Dark side of bargains
Bargains aren’t always the win-win deals they appear to be. Unscrupulous sellers can damage consumer trust, leading to buyer dissatisfaction and regret. They not only tarnish the seller’s reputation but can also hurt a country’s image, particularly those relying on tourism.
On the flip side, buyers aren’t always unscathed by bargains. There’s a slew of adverse outcomes like consumer exploitation, impulsive buying, excessive consumption, unhealthy fixation on materialism, decision fatigue and even financial instability arising from over-budgeting, budget mismanagement or diminished savings, among others. It’s incumbent upon both consumers and businesses to be aware of these practices and consequences, and to emphasize ethical conduct in the pursuit of deals.
Let’s keep these 10 unsavory practices in mind when sellers dangle deals and promotions before us.
Price manipulation: Where prices are briefly hiked just before a sale to make the discounted price look even more appealing.
Comparative pricing: Displaying a higher price next to the current price to imply a major discount, even if that higher price was never charged. A variation is phantom discount, where a percentage discount is publicized without clearly stating the basis of comparison. Often it’s a higher price that was never actually used.
Bundle illusion: Offering bundle deals with inflated individual item prices, creating the illusion of greater value than reality.
Mysterious discounts: Teasing customers with discounts that only reveal themselves after entering a code or taking action, frequently resulting in disappointment.
Deceptive advertising: Promoting nonexistent deals or exaggerating the discount, while failing to adequately disclose limitations. Another trick is sneaking vital terms into fine print, causing misunderstanding.
Bait and switch: Advertising a tantalizingly low-priced item to attract customers, often with limited stock, only to push them to a pricier regular item. A related maneuver employs “exclusion clauses” to exclude particular items from the deal without clear notification.
Hidden costs or consequences: Skipping mention of extra fees, like handling or administrative charges that pad total cost. A twist on this is having “unfair terms,” like restrictive return policies or surprise cancellation fees.
Urgency mirage: False claims of limited time offers or availability to push customers into hasty decisions. A variation is “countdown pressure,” using countdown timers or urgency messages to create a false sense of scarcity, even if the promotions are always repeated.
False scarcity: Asserting limited stock to provoke immediate purchases, regardless of whether the product is in ready supply or will be restocked soon.
Cashback confusion: Advertising cashback deals without clarifying the process or terms for getting it, often leading to confusion.
The shadows cast on shoppers
Although hunting for bargains may seem like a short-term win for shoppers, it’s essential to recognize the possible downsides and aim for a well-rounded shopping approach.
The effects of relentless bargain-hunting can be psychological, social and even ethical. While these differ from person to person, acknowledging these issues can guide individuals toward more mindful and balanced purchasing decisions.
Consider these 28 consequences (organized into six categories) wherein buyers are caught up in an excessive deal frenzy. Even social media influencers and special interest pages that champion bargains should be cautious, as zealous promotion might unknowingly harm consumers and society at large.
Mental and emotional impact
Emotional strain: The perpetual hunt for deals, including hourly and pop-up offers, can lead to stress and anxiety, turning shopping into an ordeal.
Postpurchase regret: The unending quest for deals might result in regret or dissatisfaction when a better deal emerges shortly after a purchase.
Fleeting satisfaction: Chasing one deal after another can cultivate a cycle of dissatisfaction, as the excitement of a bargain wanes rapidly, leaving consumers in a constant pursuit. Furthermore, concentrating on price may hinder appreciation of the actual value of purchase.
Decision burnout: Constantly comparing prices and scouting for deals can lead to decision fatigue, complicating sound decision-making.
Reduced patience: A relentless pursuit of deals can lower patience to wait for better-quality items or more suitable buying moments.
Missed experiences: Overprioritizing bargains might cause shoppers to overlook quality products and experiences they would have enjoyed at full price.
Societal judgment: Constant bargain-hunting might invite unfavorable perceptions from others, branding individuals as mere bargain hunters who prioritize savings over well-being.
Health and safety risks: Opting for ultra-cheap products, especially electrical, electronics and health goods can jeopardize safety, if not examined properly.
Concealed costs: Extra expenses like shipping or maintenance fees, additional accessories and potential repair costs for cheap items may be ignored amid excessive bargain-hunting.
Impulse buys: Spontaneous purchases may favor sellers but contribute to clutter and financial indiscipline.
Money woes: Splurging on unnecessary deals can disrupt budgeting and saving, especially if it becomes habitual. Paradoxically, excessive bargain hunting could hinder exploring of more efficient money-saving strategies like personal financial planning.
Short-term focus: Deal-oriented consumers may prioritize immediate savings over enduring value, bypassing products with superior durability and performance.
Social and interpersonal dynamics
Excessive bargain hunting could hinder more efficient money-saving strategies.
Impersonal transactions: Overemphasis on online deals can depersonalize shopping by minimizing interactions with sales people and in-store experiences.
Strained relationships: Excessive bargain-hunting can strain relationships with friends, family and loved ones due to time constraints.
Conformity pressure: Societal norms or peer pressure to perpetually seek deals may lead to unnecessary purchases just to fit in and brag about cheap finds.
Ecological Impact: The quest for bargains can perpetuate a throwaway mentality, leading to increased waste and pollution as inexpensive, low-quality products are frequently replaced. This phenomenon contributes to the proliferation of ‘fast fashion,’ driving excessive clothing consumption and causing harm to the environment.
Consider also the significant volume of packaging materials that persist for decades or even centuries. Excessive consumption and clutter: The relentless quest for deals may lead to accumulation of surplus items, perpetuating overconsumption and clutter.
Suppression of creativity and handcrafted goods: Unwaveringly choosing the cheapest options might hinder support for artisans and creators offering unique and handmade products.
Lack of personalization: Opting for the lowest prices might mean overlooking customized products or services that suit specific preferences or needs.
Time management and lifestyle factors
Time mismanagement: Devoting excessive time to deal hunting can detract from meaningful activities like spending time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies and interests or personal growth.
Instant gratification: The ceaseless focus on deals may foster an environment where instant gratification outweighs careful consideration and delayed gratification.
Underestimation of product value: The habit of consistently seeking discounts can lead to a mindset that undervalues products and services, impacting their perceived worth.
Ethical and societal implications
Consumer exploitation: A fixation on low prices can promote unsustainable business practices, prompting companies to compromise quality, labor, production processes and sourcing to meet the demand for cheap products. The result could be low-quality goods or even counterfeits in the pursuit of unrealistically low prices.
Cultivation of materialism: The pursuit of bargains can reinforce a culture of materialism, where the accumulation of possessions surpasses more meaningful aspects of life.
Neglect of social causes: Constant deal hunting might hinder consumers from supporting brands and companies aligned with their values and contributing to social causes.
Impact on small enterprises: Concentrating solely on bargain hunting may divert consumers from small businesses in favor of larger retailers, contributing to the decline of local businesses in communities and adding even more bargaining power to the big retail chains.
Erosion of brand loyalty: Frequent brand switching based on deals might aid sellers but could diminish brand loyalty, preventing consumers from forming lasting relationships with brands.
Inhibition of innovation: An ongoing pursuit of bargains may discourage companies from investing in innovation, as consumers demonstrate hesitancy to pay for new features.
While not all bargain hunting is inherently negative, being mindful of these consequences can empower consumers to be smarter shoppers, making informed and balanced decisions in purchasing and steering clear of impulsive choices. —CONTRIBUTED
Josiah Go is the chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc., an advocacy-based business knowledge advisory and empowerment firm.