Wednesday, 3 December 2014

"Sale" Induced Over-Buying

There's something about hotel rooms that make me want to write. And so as I waited for a reasonable hour to go to sleep while at the Merignac/Bordeaux airport enroute to Canada, I began thinking about spending money on things I don't need - in this case clothing in particular.

With my "Buy Nothing Day" resolutions, my own unfortunate "sale" experiences, and while contemplating the "Black Friday" mentality, I came up with the notion of "sale induced over-buying". With discount retailers inundating the market, you would think that this would not be a problem. After all, on any day of the year, you are likely to find a "deal" albeit requiring some "shopping around". Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that on "Black Friday" the consumer believes that the best possible price is given no matter where one ends up shopping. Or is it the idea of "lost leaders", those items possibly marked below cost of production minimums that bring you to the store or website but once you are in, you end up buying many other items besides the lost leader? After all, the shopper can rationalize that since the lost leader cost almost nothing, he or she can afford to buy more. And that is how my thinking progressed and my idea of "sale-induced over-buying" began.

I then researched a smattering of both economic and psychological literature, where the following topics recurred: "buyers' remorse", the "paradox of choice", "addictive/compulsive buying behaviour" aka shopaholic along with some Marketing 101 terminology. I think there's a post in each of these.

My belief is that at the "over 50%" discount, consumers begin thinking, "at this price I should buy two or three or twenty", whether it be toilet paper or cashmere sweaters. A University of Southern California paper tells us that for regular mark-downs, "a large segment of the population . . . respond(s) to negligible discounts (as little as half of 1%)" and that the words "everyday low price" increases sales of the product exhibiting that sign. It may be the standard price for that particular store and it doesn't mean it has been marked down. So if consumers respond that significantly to insignificant reductions or no reduction at all, at what percentage will they overbuy? 

The way we think about retail pricing determines what we might overbuy at sale prices. If I am introduced to a product at a low price, it will be difficult for me to pay a higher price whereas if I only know a product at a high price, I won't mind paying it and anything lower will lead me to believe that I am getting a deal. This is what Introductory Marketing calls "internal reference prices" or the prices a consumer is willing to pay based on experience. Then comes the discount, which I suspect would have to be significant and range between 60% and 80% off before a rational person becomes irrational about the number of items he or she buys. As I write those numbers I have to remember that consumers also respond to negligible discounts of less than 1%. So the question still remains, what discount percentages provoke overbuying?

What should you do so that you do not become a victim of sale-induced over-buying?

Buy what you can use and not more . . .

1. Lost Leaders. Only buy the lost leader and only buy as many as you can use. If you want to give them as gifts, this is of course a good time to buy.

2. Never say, "this is such a good deal, I'm going to buy three (or however many) more". Buy what you can use. If you buy with storage in mind, consider the hoarding mentality, and ask yourself if it is really necessary.

3. Go to the storefront, auctions or online with a plan and stick to it. I have heard of those who go to auctions and get so caught up in the excitement of the moment that they come home with way more than what they originally set out to buy.

Or is it personality type that factors into overbuying? . . . a discounted price, a perceived need, a spendthrift mentality and there arises the circumstance to buy more than one really needs. I have never seen this idea clinically analyzed but maybe someone somewhere has already done this. Let me know if you have seen this literature or have done research of this kind. 

In the meantime, be careful about how many cashmere sweaters you buy!


Scherhorn, Gerhard. The addictive trait in buying behaviour. Journal of Consumer Policy, 1990. Retrieved November, 30, 2014 from

Bigne, Enrique, Ruiz, Carla, and Sanz, Silvia. The impact of internet user shopping patterns and demographics on consumer mobile buying behaviour. Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, 2005. Retrieved on November 30, 2014 from

Lars Perner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing. Department of Marketing, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California. Introduction to Marketing: Pricing. Retrieved on November 30, 2014 from


  1. Relaxing in Kelowna5 December 2014 at 01:23

    One of the benefits of downsizing is the lack of storage "real estate", as my husband likes to call it. You can not buy more than you need, as there is no where to put it!! And if you do, something has to go out! It is a constant bone of contention in this house!! After seven years we have reached the purging point. And so, there will be no impulse buys, or, "gee, I can't live without this buys" until sorting is done (again!) and stuff is pitched!! But oh my, your point #2 is so on the mark! :) Sigh!!!

    1. "Storage real estate" - exactly - I guess I am writing what is most pertinent to me since I now have two locations with claim to more storage real estate and consequently a certain amount of procrastination has infiltrated my downsizing thinking - I hope I can follow my own advice! And by the way, thanks for adding a comment, always appreciated.

  2. Great post.

    "If you buy with storage in mind..."

    If I had thought about where to put everything before I brought it home, I would've purchased a lot less over the years. I think. I've been much better about buying less in general. The retailers definitely make it hard w/all the discounts.

    1. You are right about retailing strategies but it is their business and our business is to manage ourselves, I suppose. So what do you think, is there a "no buying day" resolution in your 2015 commitments?


Your comments inspire me and so I read them in gratitude and reply with delight. Thank you.