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Sharper Shopping

How to be a more skillful shopper.

You're a lousy shopper. You buy things you don't need. You spend too much. It takes you too long. You overestimate how happy a purchase will make you. You buy the same thing over and over when other options could be a better fit for you. Shopping may even stress you out.

Whether you like shopping or not, you're probably not as good at it as you think you are. But don't feel bad - it's not your fault (well, not totally).

Selling to the lizard

Businesses, marketers, and advertisers spend billions of dollars every year to learn about your subconscious mind and how it influences your behavior as a consumer. There's even a recent field of study called "neuromarketing" to see what is happening inside the shopper's brain.

They use that knowledge to invisibly sway your subconscious "lizard brain" into convincing you to buy what they are selling. They know way more than you do about your own brain, so when you go to the store or a commercial website, it's like bringing a knife to a gunfight. And the knife is dull.

(Please note - I do not consider "selling to the lizard" to be unethical - as long as it is done honestly and not intended to deceive.)

So let's examine how you can up your game and be better prepared to make great decisions when you head off to the store in your car, at your keyboard or on your phone.

Here are a few of the methods marketers use to influence you subconsciously, and what you can do increase your chances of making a good buying decision:

Urgency - Even though you may not have a need to make a decision quickly, your lizard brain loves to nudge you to act fast. It's a survival instinct that keeps animals alive in the harsh and dangerous wilds, but does not serve us well when making a purchasing decision.

Sellers play into this by offering an incentive to "BUY NOW!" The biggest enemy of a seller is deliberate thought and their biggest friend is emotion. If you take a day to think about a buying decision before making it, especially for bigger purchases, you give the initial emotion time to wear off and good judgment a chance to prevail.

If a discount is offered for making a quick purchase, take a good hard look at whether that would be a good purchase for you. Usually that type of discount is offered when the seller knows that you are less likely to buy if you take your time.

Anchoring - Another type of subconscious influence is the concept of anchoring. Exposure to something, like a number, can "anchor" us to that number when making judgments. In retailing, an obvious example is the previous price on a discount tag, such as "WAS: $24.99 NOW: $14.99." Even though you may know darn well that this is probably false, you are unconsciously anchored to that first number which makes the second number feel like quite the bargain.

The secret to beating anchoring is to not rely on the seller to tell you the value of their product. Do some research. Comparison shop with other stores or similar products to find the true value.

(For more on anchoring, see this article).

The magic word - FREE. There is a strange reaction humans have to the concept of "free." Getting something for nothing feels like the ultimate win and if we can pull it off. It is called the zero price effect and has an irrational allure beyond logic and reason that makes us a little bit crazy and a little bit stupid.

When used by a commercial enterprise, "free" rarely comes without costs. Some of the hidden costs associated with "free" products are :

- Time and attention. Your time and attention are gold to marketers and media and should be to you. If you are required to spend time in order to get the free thing, it's not really free.

- Money. Sometimes you are actually paying real money for the so-called “free” thing. If you can only obtain a free item by buying something else then it’s not free.

- Clutter. If the item is a physical object, it takes up space and you now have it somewhere in your possession. Clutter contributes to stress, drains energy and wastes time as well.

To overcome the seduction of the free, take a moment to analyze the hidden costs and determine if it really is FREE. (For more on "free", see this article).

Plan of action

Since it is impossible to see all the ways that we can be subconsciously influenced and manipulated during the shopping experience, a great way to avoid making a bad decision is to pre-plan your trip. Know what you need, focus only on that, and refuse to consider buying anything else. Don't window shop, browse, dilly and/or dally. It may not be as fun but you'll be glad you did.

By using these simple tips you can become a sharper shopper and make shopping less stressful and more satisfying.

Think well and be well!

- Steve

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?


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