Pondering the nature of purchasing

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Me, gleefully holding my Vintage Pink Malden and Tan Belmont A5s – both discontinued and very hard to find!

There is a whole science to shopping. We don’t realize it, but we are herded like sheep (and yes, as shoppers, we ARE sheep) through shops in a way that maximizes our desire to spend. I was sure I had already written an article about it but cannot find it now, though I did find a similar one here.

From the smell of fresh bread encouraging us to buy, to the sweets and magazines at the checkout counter, all is carefully planned. Loss-leaders like cheap toilet paper (usually placed at the end of the aisles) entice us into the store but then once in, we buy other more pricey things as well as the toilet paper. More expensive items are placed at eye level on shelves while the cheaper stuff you have to crouch or stretch to reach. Expensive items are always in the centre of a display. Companies pay supermarkets for best placement for their products – in the middle of a gondola at eye height is the most expensive – some merchandisers say ‘the eyeline is the buyline’ . And BOGOF (buy one get one free), 2 for 1 and 3 for 2 offers just make you spend more than you were intending to.

Smaller floor tiles make you slow down, because the frequent clicking as your trolley wheels go over them makes you feel you are going too fast. Staple goods like milk are right at the back so you have to walk past all the non-essential temptations to get to them. And staple goods are often not close to each other – the bread is very seldom close to the milk, for example.  Other tricks are to have the ‘dwell zones’ (where we want to stay) deep in the store, and put things like flowers in the ‘dead zones’. Dead zones are just inside the door, where you are still acclimatizing to the shop and in no state to buy.

Music makes  a huge difference. Fast, loud music makes you eat more quickly so fast food chains tend to use it. Cosmetic departments usually have soft soothing music, encouraging you to browse. Shops like Topshop have club-type music and a party atmosphere  to get you into a good mood for some frenzied social shopping. IKEA not only makes you go through the entire shop to get out but they have a) cheap food b) play areas for kids and c) lots of free toilets inside the shop so that you don’t have to leave. They also have cheap hot dogs at the exits. Now there is an incentive to go through the entire shop! Has anyone EVER left IKEA empty handed?

The smell of fresh bread in a supermarket makes you want to spend, just as the smell of coffee in a house will make you want to buy it, and the smell of leather in an upmarket store will make you feel it must be selling quality products. And surprisingly, pristine shelves do NOT make you want to buy. A slightly rifled through rack and a ruffled pile of clothes suddenly makes them more attractive as you feel someone wanted what was on them really badly. An estate agent who says ‘I have so many people wanting this house’ or ‘you are third in line for this property’ has a way better chance of making a sale than one who tells you that the house has been on the market for years and there has been no interest at all in it.

When it comes to fast food restaurants, they get you in and out in the shortest possible time while encouraging you to eat as much as possible. They do this by playing loud music, which makes people eat faster and drink more in a shorter amount of time, by using uncomfortable chairs, and by decorating in warm colors like red, orange and yellow, which stimulates your desire to eat. And when it comes to food, the label ‘80% fat free’ is more likely to make you want to buy it than one saying ‘20% fat’.

Have you ever thought how you make a beeline for a red tag, believing it to be a bargain? Or how smooth floors guide you into a shop but carpeted areas make you stop and browse? Or how the words ‘limited edition’ really make you want to buy something. And even pay silly money for it? Or how 3 for 2, buy one get one free or gifts with purchase make you buy more than you were intending? The store does not lose in the end because people buy more than they would have otherwise done, and you also tend to purchase other items while you are there.

And then we get to the crux of this article – the lure of the limited edition, the rare and the sold out.

When Filofax Vintage Pink Maldens and Aqua Maldens came out, not many people liked them. The Aqua was considered to be too green and the Vintage Pink to resemble raw meat. This applied to the Imperial Finchley as well – they were sold off at extremely cheap prices during the Filofax 90-year celebrations. But as soon as all these binders were discontinued and hard to find, suddenly they were hot property, changing hands for eye-watering prices. People hunt and search and pay high prices for them the minute they find them, often to sell them immediately they receive them because ‘I am not bonding’ and ‘it is not love’. Then when they see the person who bought it from them exclaiming excitedly over their new binder, the original owner suffers seller’s remorse and starts to look for one anew. Or they see someone showing something else that is discontinued and rare, and feel that if it is hard to find it must be good – so they start the hunt, with many others, competing for the limited items available. Leading to more frenzy.

Another interesting feature of purchasing psychology applies to Gillios I think. Gillio have limited supply, slow and unpredictable production times and high prices. So people tend to over-buy because they know the opportunity may not come again soon, if at all. Then they see the next one they want, so they sell to fund the next purchase. The buyers are caught up in the same frenzy of not knowing when the next one will appear, so they buy impulsively and then have to sell to fund their next one. The constant buying and selling gives the impression that these binders are worth getting into a virtual scrum for. While people often remark ‘ooh Gillio must be getting rich on all this’, no I don’t think so. For each one binder that Gillio sells, it is then sold and re-sold, sometimes more than ten times. The resale price stays constant but it is not Gillio getting the money. That same sum of money is turned over each time the binder is sold. And the fact that the resale price stays constant is because of the rarity factor, not the quality (that is not to say that Gillios are not quality binders. They are. But then so are Faber Castell and Mulberry. But both are easily found). If these binders were readily available the resale value would drop like a stone as soon as you bought it.

Take the recent Gillio Bellezza rush – the 25 limited edition binders sold rather slowly when they were available. It took about four days for all of them to be sold. But once they were on the way and arriving, a frenzy started with people going almost hysterical for one. Some people were offering more than double the purchase price without having even seen the binder. However, within days, about one in three binders were being sold or traded and now, three weeks later, at least two of them are on their third owners. Within a few months, 90% of them had changed hands, and 50% of those have changed hands multiple times – up to eight times in some cases. But the whole circus will start all over again the next time a limited edition comes out.

Another scenario: you know about a binder vaguely, but don’t think anything of it until someone posts how they love theirs. Then suddenly you want one. You can’t find it so post that you are hunting for one. The fact that you are hunting for one makes other people feel they are worth hunting for and so they start hunting for one too. Prices get higher, ISO posts multiply, and the frenzy starts….

If all the binders everyone was fighting for were readily, easily available, would people still want them? My guess is – 100% NO. Because they are easily available people would perceive them as being less attractive and not want them as much. People often say ‘Filofax should bring back the Vintage Pink Malden’. If they did, believe me, they would not sell. They did not sell the first time and they would not sell now. Some people would love them but most people would walk in, take a look and say ‘meh, looks like raw meat’ and walk out. Then they would be discontinued again and THEN they would become hot property. Not before.

This brings us to saturation point. In my case if I see something new and like it, I am interested. Second time I see one I am curious. Third time I see one I want to buy it. After that if I see one, I lose interest. I don’t want something gazillions of other people have. Other people tend to only want something if lots of people have it. So in that respect the shopping cycle for a product is extended. Because once something is discontinued the people who were not interested when they were ubiquitous become interested once they become rarer again.

And finally it brings us to online shopping. Online you can see a stock photo of a product. Often very small, often only of the exterior, and often with the colour enhanced. You can’t smell it or touch it or see it. When it arrives the colour is often not bright enough or it is stiffer or floppier than you thought. It could be much bigger or smaller than you imagined. Often even if you measure it out with a tape measure, the size and shape is a surprise when you receive it.

If you are wondering if this buying frenzy has happened to me, yes it has. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen. The last time was last year in July. I was in TK Maxx in High Street Kensington looking at an Aspinal Purple Croc briefcase, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted this bag. I picked it up, looked at it and thought ‘nah, too blingy’ and put it down. I turned back to the Purple Croc briefcase and about a minute later I turned round to look at the Balmain again and it was gone. I suddenly wanted that bag more than life itself. I hunted for another one for days. I hunted in every other TK Maxx in London. I searched online. I checked daily for returned items at the High Street Kensington TKMaxx. Nothing. When I got back to Stockholm I hunted on eBay and every site I could think of.  One day – there it was! An eBay UK-only auction. I wrote to ask if the seller would send to Sweden and found out that a) she would and b) it was EXACTLY the same bag. The seller buys bags at TKMaxx to resell. I was determined to get that bag so much that I ended up paying an extra £100 pounds for it. And vowed I would never let it go again! And I haven’t. And I really do love it. But in most cases when I finally have my unicorn in my hands, all I can feel is ‘meh’. And believe me I have ruined foreign holidays hunting after items that were sold out because I hummed and haaad too long, only to find them eventually and not buy them because they were not very nice to to begin with, hence my humming and haaing in the first place.

It must be some kind of survival instinct. In the way that strong virile cavemen were very attractive to the women in order to spread their healthy genes and secure the survival of the human race. Or that people used to have to fight for food. But because we don’t have to fight to live these days the survival instinct is channeled into other things.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

19 thoughts

  1. Your best post ever. You’ve captured the essence of this phenomenon completely, and given much to think about.
    Thanks Janet! Please don’t ever stop blogging!

  2. One of your very best posts ever, Janet. I think you have captured the essence of this buying/selling frenzy phenomenon. Every item you mention, is spot-on, and food for thought.
    Thank you!

  3. A very spot-on post. I’ve only recently returned to ring binder planning, but I’ve watched similar frenzies play out in other areas. I especially agree that the internet has multiplied this frenzy in two ways – people don’t get to evaluate an item in person, so demand might be slow (this is especially true when an item is expensive or difficult to obtain), and old models get featured by users well past their sales cycle, exposing them to people who didn’t know of their existence.

    Another factor is the incredible speed of retailers to offer and clear out stock. Short sales cycles contributes to low demand when the retailer is already reducing prices to clear space for the new stuff (All New is definitely another sale trick!).

    Then all the bargain hunters take the risk and buy the clearance items, and they’re thrilled with their cool new (cheaper) item, and show us all with unboxing/set up videos. Which leads the first people who hesitated at the higher price kick themselves and start hunting down the now-hard-find item. And same for people who didn’t even know the item existed until after its gone. I think the Vintage Pink and Aqua are examples of this – the colors were misnamed and created expectations. When expectations weren’t met, they were passed on. But there are second and third round buyers who love those colors as they are, once they had the item in hand or saw a correct representation somewhere.

    I think the only factor you didn’t really expand on was the international factor. Some of the FF binders were never available or rarely available in some countries. So they were never even considered for purchase when they were available new. Now that paper planning is seeing a resurgence, and we’re all sharing, some of the older less popular binders are very desirable both for their rarity, and because they finally found the audience that wants them. So many manufacturers don’t do international sales – they rely on distributors, which limits availability.

    The retail chain has stock in hand (sometimes all over the world), but once online is sold out, good luck finding it. The thought of desirable items sitting on shelves unwanted in stores or other countries is so frustrating when you’re hunting something you want. I’m thrilled that some of the FF distributors are opening up international sales of New Old Stock.

    I’m very hopeful for companies like Van der Spek. When you can custom order what you want, you are less subject to all the other whims/frenzies (you just need the money and patience). For my own purposes, I hope they expand their interior layout options as I want to design my own binder, but don’t love their current layouts. If I’m going custom, I want full custom 🙂

    1. Brilliant comment! I really didn’t think of the naming issue which is true actually because Aqua definitely was badly named. It should have been Jade.

      And regarding VDS, the sales group is very very quiet. People do sell binders but not very often. I guess you get what you want and each one is unique so there is nothing specific to chase after except the Touch Me. And it did happen there – as soon as the Touch Mes sold out everyone wanted one.

  4. Maybe I am unique – I have gone all the way through a branch of IKEA and left without buying anything! Mind you, I know all about the rarity thing – just search eBay for “Oakley Romeo 1”! I would estimate that I could resell my near mint pair for at least 50% more than I paid for them…

  5. Love this post. The fact that I am a senior lady filofax fan might be a factor, but I can’t buy something because a lot of peoole have it. If that was true I’d be driving a newer car. Mine still runs fine and us cheap on gas. Ww are really a throw-away society. Get rid of it as soon as it’s not popular anymore. I really enjoy your posts.

  6. You’ve explained a phenomenon which I have been puzzled over for ages; I am not a shopper at all. Hate shopping, hate looking, hate spending money. Once in a while I find something I love and buy it. So all the “I NEED XYZ BINDER, DESPERATE, PLEASE HELP!” turning to “XYZ binder for sale for $X” is confusing. If you wanted it so badly why are you selling it now? I am amazed at the reselling of Gillio binders; I admire these binders for their quality but the fact that I cannot take my time and order the right one has put me off the brand; it creates this frenzy of purchasing without proper consideration as you’ve explained so well above.

    1. Yes it is very much an ‘I NEED XYZ!!!! DESPERATELY SEARCHING FOR XYZ!!!!’ followed three days later by ‘XYZ for sale so I can buy an ABC!!! DESPERATELY SEARCHING FOR ABC!!!’ Makes my head spin!

      1. LOL! If I’m spending serious money on a planner, I take my time. I shall get a VDS writing case eventually, but in my own sweet time when I’m certain on the colours and so on …

  7. Great article, and so true! Although, I must say the Malden in vintage pink is my all time favourite! I have let go other filofaxes, but just can’t let this particular model go.

  8. Awesome article. You are so right about Ikea. Not only have I never left empty handed, I have ended buying things that “I could never live without”, yet lived my whole life without it until that point.

  9. This is so true. I also think it’s funny when you may fall in love with something that is less than perfect and others think you are crazy!! When I bought my first Filofax I never thought it would end up being a whole collection! A small one, but I do enjoy it. Thank you for your post.

  10. Very interesting piece, and I think you’re right. As a relative newcomer to the planner comms, I am endlessly fascinated by people’s behaviour. I’m not a collector, as I don’t instinctively graduate towards leather products (life-long vegetarian!) If I buy a leather planner, I have to really want it (think Akiko’s gorgeous work!) And I’m a contrary sod – I often don’t do what other people do, just because!

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