Thinking of hitting the sales? Although the temptation to bag a bargain can be overwhelming, it’s easy to buy things on impulse and regret it later. So how do you know what to buy and what’s better avoided? Here’s our guide to being a savvy sales shopper.
"We're driven by a collective fear of missing out, which makes us panic-buy."
Write a list
Writing a shopping list can make you less prone to emotionally-driven impulse purchases.
Be specific: if you’re looking for a new computer, know exactly what you need it for. This will inform your decision making. Even though it’s got money off, do you really need a higher spec model – or would you be better off getting the cheaper version that meets your requirements and will do the job just as well?
Projection bias influences our decisions. This is when we believe the thing we’re buying will satisfy us as much into the future as it does right now. More often than not, this isn’t the case. This is why the comprehensive list is so important - does that must-have item merely quench an immediate craving, or does it genuinely fulfil a long-term need?
Set your budget in advance
Work out how much you have to spend – you don’t want it to impact your household budget, and make sure you build in a buffer for unexpected splurges. After all, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting impulse buy if you know you can afford it.
Pick your shopping partners carefully
Take a look at your previous shopping habits. Do you tend to be happier with your purchases when shopping solo or with others? If it’s with others and you want to stick to your budget, head to the shops with family members – research shows this makes us more likely to stay in control than shopping with our peers.
Choose online over in store
According to Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, Consumer and Business Psychologist at University College London, this is because we’re driven by a collective fear of missing out (also known as FOMO), making us panic buy. He says it’s because “…people copy each other. From an evolutionary perspective we’re competing, we don’t want to miss out on resources. So the more busy the stores are, the more we’re going to spend because we’re imitating everyone else.”
Be aware of retailers’ tactics
There are a number of tactics used to get us to part with our money, including:
- Limited time and limited availability offers. By instilling a sense of urgency, we feel pressured into buying something immediately in case we miss out. If this wasn’t on your list, shop around or search online. You may find similar or better offers elsewhere. And you may even find the retailer’s offer isn’t quite as limited as it originally appeared.
- Red ‘sale’ signs. According to a study published in the journal Emotion, the colour red makes people react faster and more forcefully - making us take action. Red sale signs are designed to entice us in store; once we’re there, we’re more likely to buy non-sale items too.
- Large shopping baskets or trolleys. These can encourage us to pick up more items. If you’re keen to curb your spending, make a rule that you’ll only buy what you can carry.
- Playing loud, upbeat music. This encourages us to move around the shop more quickly and make snap decisions, hence impulse purchases.
“Is this really a bargain?”
Always ask yourself, “Is this really a bargain?” Just because an item’s showing a huge price reduction, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good value. A pair of designer socks may have 80% off, but if they’re still nearly £100 is this sensible?
Are you spending money so you can get something for free? If so, are you really making a saving?
And if you’ve found something tempting online, make sure you do your research before parting with your money. Check reviews across several sites. Is it as good as it first seems? Could you get it cheaper elsewhere? This is especially important for expensive items.
The sales can be a great time for making those big purchases like holidays or household items and electronics, and even smaller ones like cards or wrapping paper, at a fraction of their original price. With a bit of preparation and knowledge, they’re the perfect opportunity to save money whilst planning for the year ahead. But before you take out your wallet, just make sure you ask yourself if you really need it; if it’s good value for money; and if you’re going to regret or forget it in a few months (like those boots you bought in the last Winter sales and still haven’t worn!).