Boxing week life lessons

The ability to understand the way people think allows one to craft strategies to influence that thought and get what they want. If this power is used for good, it can be very valuable. Conversely, in the hands of the selfish, this power can lead to abuses, control, and other unpleasant outcomes.

I actually enjoy Boxing Day crowds, sales, etc. I enjoy observing how, each year, for a few hours on the day after Christmas, millions of shoppers become intensely focused on shopping even though many of them had to drag themselves out of bed. I often think that if people were as concentrated and productive in their everyday lives as they are on Boxing Day, we would experience new levels of success, fulfilment, and accomplishment.

There seems to be a sense of urgency in the limited opening hours on Boxing Day that makes us realize that we have to make quick choices and move fast because the proverbial door of opportunity is closing soon. It’s that same sense of urgency that is missing in many people’s daily lives, the presence of which would have us creating our future instead of saying things like “we’ll see”, making specific plans instead of opting to put things off until “next time” or “another day”, and taking calculated risks towards achieving amazing results over standing still in the interest of comfort and safety.

Retailers know that we’re ready to spend. Some stores take advantage of this knowledge and of open wallets to put out clear ads announcing their promotions, days in advance, to allow consumers to think about and plan their purchases and research electronics or other big-ticket items; a call-to-action, so to speak. However, on a brief pre-Boxing Day walk through a mall the other day, I was quickly reminded of the schemes that some stores use to lure us in, lower our guards, and separate us from our hard-earned money. At this time of year, there are some really great deals to be had but there are also some very misleading promotions to be aware of. 

I am disappointed in shoe stores. It has become a tradition for me to buy a pair of new shoes each Boxing Day, much like the Minister of Finance buys new shoes each year before announcing the budget. It makes perfect sense. The average life span of a pair of shoes, worn regularly, is about a year anyway, and the symbolism of walking into something new (a year or a budget) with new shoes is exciting and optimistic. I scoped out some shoe stores (though this is not limited to them) and noticed a common advertising tactic. They all seem to love the words “up to”.

“Up to 70% off!” – read one sign, (with the “up to” in small, barely noticeable font and the “70% off”at least 10 times larger, and bold!) on a rack with the left shoes of about 40 different styles. Sounds like a great deal! I scanned the rack for styles I liked and turned over the first shoe. Regular price $69.99, sale price $59.99. Umm. that’s not 70%. That’s not even close. Next shoe, regularly $59.99, sale price $49.99. Turned over one more shoe, marked at $89.99 – not on sale. What? This is not right. I turned over every shoe on this rack, and NONE were marked down by 70%. I asked the manager about this and he casually replied: “there are some in the store that are 70% off.”

Technically, a promotion that says “up to 70% off” is legal in this case, but is it right? I can imagine the words “up to” being the result of some very hyped up meeting, years ago, between a company’s marketing and legal departments. Thinking backwards from the result, I am disappointed to think that any company would (and many must) be starting a meeting with the question “how do we trick shoppers into thinking they’re getting a deal?”

A while back, I posted a message entitled “We must question what we’re told.” Every day, I find more examples of misleading communications, in different industries. The common thread is that the message is designed to incite us do something to their benefit; something we would likely not do if the message were truthful. If this store had a shelf of the 6 pairs of shoes actually marked down 70%, and advertised “most shoes marked down 15%”, shoppers would ignore their store completely on Boxing Day, and they know it.

As I have said in the past, companies stick with this type of message because history has shown that it works. Most people don’t question what they are told. Many will walk in, get excited about the apparent “70% off” sale, and assume that the sale price they are seeing is wonderful. They show their tacit approval of these strategies at the cash register, consistently.

Our behaviour has allowed this plague of psychological abuse and disrespect for consumers to grow. Fortunately, there’s a treatment available to combat this plague and potentially shrink it. The treatment is called “awareness” and it’s not available in stores or pharmacies. The best part is that we are pre-programmed with “awareness”, and to activate it, all we need to do is ensure the connection between out eyes and our brains. Add a dose of consideration and the antidote is complete. The more awareness we show, the less benefit untruthful retailers will see. Hopefully, they will take their own sip of awareness and realize that the path to success is to treat their customers’ intelligence with respect, through honest messages.

Remember, psychology goes both ways. Just like marketers get control over us by learning how we think, we can take back the control by understanding how they think, and consequently act.


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