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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Think before you buy

Clever marketing tactics and how to avoid them


By MAYA KORNYEYEVA — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu


Over the course of your life, you’ve probably made a few — or maybe more than a few — regrettable purchases. Perhaps it was a pair of jeans that were trending that just didn’t fit or something you bought on sale and never touched again. 

Often, money slips through our fingers before we have a chance to consider what we are spending it on. Impulsive purchases are becoming increasingly common for college students and are especially problematic for those of us who want to save money or don’t have a lot to begin with. If you’re growing more worried about protecting yourself from clever marketing schemes, fear not: I am here to explain exactly how to navigate and successfully avoid the traps of a salesperson. 

First, it is important to be aware of how much human psychology plays a role in what you decide to buy. Companies tend to appeal to emotion, specifically our natural desire for comfort and our pursuit of happiness. In my experience, people generally respond well to kindness, and many sales are made based on human connections, not statistics. 

This is why the concept of “customer connections” is such a crucial part of customer service. Having worked at Starbucks for nearly two years, this idea of connecting and reconnecting with regular customers has been drilled into my daily routine — each shift I say “Hello” as someone walks through the door, “Thank you” as they leave and inquire about their day when taking an order. 

True, I do this mainly to be friendly and to hopefully make someone’s day. But the fact still remains that Starbucks continues to prioritize this type of customer interaction because getting personal with a customer is the single most effective way to secure a sale. This draws from the idea that you’re likely to revisit that location and make another purchase, if only to catch up with your favorite barista.

Thus, when a salesperson asks for your name or encourages you to share information about your day or personal life, they are likely searching for a piece of information to create a relationship that they can use to their advantage. Behold, the psychological concept of reciprocity — you give what you get.

Another key aspect of selling a product comes from streamlining a buyer’s train of thought in order to keep a given product or service at the top of their minds. Priming, or the careful introduction of specific words or images, creates a filter through which a consumer unconsciously examines another concept or product. For example, a car advertisement featuring a red background and words like “fire” and “speed” can direct a customer to check the safety ratings, while a groovy, colorful background can have the buyer browsing car models and styles. 

Selective attention, or confirmation bias, is another way marketers strategically influence your thoughts. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, coined in 1994, illustrates how discovering a new thing, word or idea causes you to notice it more frequently, and each time you see it you begin to treat it as additional proof that the product or service is everywhere.

But wait, there’s more. Free trials are a common and very effective method to hook a customer on a product, for fear of losing access to what they quickly grew accustomed to using. The reason links back to the findings from a 1990 study conducted by Nobel Prize-winning Psychologist and Behavioral Economist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues. The group ultimately found that people are more likely to act when they have something to lose, rather than when they have something to gain. 

Finally, humans are social animals. However introverted some of us may be, we crave the company of others and regularly conform to social norms and expectations. When choosing to purchase something, the first thing many of us do is check the ratings: “What did other people think? Did they like it? Did they not like it? What were the issues with the product, and would I have issues with it as well?” We rely constantly on the recommendation and criticism of others, so when we see people readily purchasing something, we purchase it too. 

On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that people can also be unreliable. Often, companies over-exaggerate or misrepresent data in order to convince buyers of a product’s scarcity or excellence. Some stretch the numbers on their graphs, falsify comparisons or don’t add units altogether. Critically examining any data a company presents is crucial. 

With knowledge of these psychological tricks in your back pocket, you can, at the very least, recognize when a salesperson is trying to manipulate you and avoid purchases you haven’t fully decided on. All you need is some practice!


Written by: Maya Kornyeyeva — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.