How Your Shopping Choices are Affected by Numbers

12 Jul
I read a really neat article over at the Atlantic called “The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math”.   (My teeth kind of gritted together at that title.  Is it just me, or should “that” and “are” be lower-case?)  The whole premise of the article is that many times, we, as consumers, are duped into buying things we wouldn’t necessarily buy because of the way they are priced and displayed.

Here’s some of the things that struck me as things that could be easily avoidable.  (Check out the article for the rest of the list!  It’s a fascinating read..)

2.  We are heavily influenced by the first number.  The article gave an example of seeing an Hermes bag for $7,000, thinking that it’s ridiculous, and then feeling good about yourself because a similar handbag is only $300.  You buy the cheaper handbag and feel like you got a deal.  

Stores do this a lot, I’ve noticed.  Sometimes, I’ll see a great pair of shoes, but when I look at the tag, they’re about twice as much as I’d want to pay.  But then, sitting within eye-sight, I see a similar pair and they’re reasonably priced.  Because I was tempted by the first pair, I can buy the second pair and feel like I saved money.  

But, did I?  I didn’t even go into that store to buy those shoes, but because I saw an expensive pair I loved and wanted, I leave feeling like I dodged a bullet by getting the cheap lookalike.  

4.  We are in love with stories.  “In his book Priceless, William Poundstone explains what happened when Williams-Sonoma added a $429 breadmaker next to their $279 model: Sales of the cheaper model doubled even though practically nobody bought the $429 machine. Lesson: If you can’t sell a product, try putting something nearly identical, but twice as expensive, next to it. It’ll make the first product look like a gotta-have-it bargain. One explanation for why this tactic works is that people like stories or justifications. Since it’s terribly hard to know the true value of things, we need narratives to explain our decisions to ourselves. Price differences give us a story and a motive: The $279 breadmaker was, like, 40 percent cheaper than the other model — we got a great deal! Good story.”

As someone who considers herself a good bargain shopper, I am such a sucker for the fashion victory story.   One of my favorites is getting a pair of calf-hair, leopard print Tory Burch Revas for like 70% off from Nordstrom Rack.  People ooh and ahh over that story to the degree that I admit to going to the Rack just to recreate it again and again.  


The same thing happened last week:  I was in the Rack and saw a pair of Tory Burch Reva wedges.  They were adorable, and would have been perfect for work, AND again, they were at least 70% off.  The only thing?  They had a silver medallion on the toe, and I loathe silver.  (Gold all the way!)  Still…I was so tempted to buy them because they were such a good price.  And wouldn’t it make a good story?!

Next, do some research and get a list of potentials.   I know online shopping is great for this, but sometimes you need to see it in person.  Go to the mall and try on all your pairs.  See how they feel.  Walk around the store.  Ask the Sales Associate if these go on sale often.  


6.  We let our emotions get the best of us.   The example in the article isn’t really pertinent to clothing shopping (at least for me).  It talks primarily about shopping when in a bad mood, we’re more prone to make bad decisions.  But, for me?  My emotions get the best of me when I see something and fall in love with it.  This has happened a few times–I remember freaking out over a leopard print, retro car coat from Talbot’s.  This coat was like $300, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I even dreamed about the darn thing.  Eventually, I ended up taking a few extra shifts at work, and bought it full price.  My emotions were so high that I was actually giddy when I forked over the cash.

This is a hard one for me to talk about.  I’d like to think that I’ve overcome being an impulsive shopper, but I definitely am an emotional shopper.  If I see something I love, I’ll let a few days go by and see if I still love it just as much.  Many times, I’m over it, and I know it was a momentary thing.  But other times, like that leopard coat, I can’t stop thinking about it, and eventually have to go back and buy it.

Did I really need a leopard print coat?  (Actually, I felt like I did since it was my favorite color and I didn’t have one…)  The real answer is no.  We don’t need anything.  We just want to have it.

10.  We are obsessed with the number nine.  Up to 65 percent of all retail prices end in the number 9. Why? Everybody knows that $20 and $19.99 are the same thing. But the number 9 tells us something simple: This thing is discounted. This thing is cheap. This thing was priced by somebody who knows you like things discounted and cheap. …But the same person shopping for underwear is (research has shown, again and again) more likely to buy a product that ends in 9. Remember: Shopping is an attention game. Consumers aren’t just hunting for products. They’re hunting for clues that products are worth buying.”

While I don’t think I’m that influenced by the number 9, I do get obsessed with a good deal.   Usually the higher the discount, the more you think it’s a good deal.   I remember I got this amazing leather trench coat with fur trim for like 90% off.  It was originally like $900, and I felt thrilled when I got such a good deal on it.   Did I need a leather trench?  No.  But, it was such a good deal, I felt like I was coming out ahead.


So, it seems like everything we encounter when we shop is psychological.  How do we get around that and know we’re making wise choices with our money?  

Here are some of my tips to know if an “amazing” deal is worth it.

1.  Know your budget.
If you owe thousands on your credit card, or are behind in your bills–then you have zero business buying those leopard print heels.  You don’t need them.  Put them back.  Go get your financial life in order, and then worry about your shoes.   

On the same hand, if you do have the money in your budget for those shoes, then don’t feel guilty buying them.  I do this alot–I will save up for something that’s pricey, buy it, and then start to feel guilty when other people comment on it (knowing that it was expensive).   What they don’t know is that I saved for a few months and then splurged.  Don’t feel guilty if you can afford it and you know that you’re not going to go into debt to pay for it.

2.  Know your product.
One of the biggest things that gets people into trouble, the article mentioned, is that we don’t know the value of what we’re buying.   We think we’re getting a good deal on something because of how it’s advertised, but in actuality, you’re getting ripped off.   The best way to combat this is to do your research.  

If you want a new pair of black heels for work, don’t just saunter into Nordstrom and buy the first pair you see because they’re on sale.  Go do your homework first.  Read reviews.  Figure out what’s important–comfort?  Style?  Label?   Sure, Louboutins would be awesome, but are they really worth it?  Are they comfortable?  Are there any brands that look similar?  


What you’re trying to do here is figure out how much the shoes you want are actually worth.  I think sale prices are sometimes a great way to figure this out.  (It’s why I can’t shop Anthropologie at full price–especially when I can get their $300 sundresses for $40 on sale!)  

If you go into that store armed with knowledge, you’ll have a harder time being swayed because the sales man tells you it’s a good deal.  (A great way to do this is to take a fashion savvy friend.  I love shopping with my friends and helping them know it’s a good deal.)

3.  Know what you want.

This reminds of that saying:  If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.  Shopping when you don’t know what you want is a dangerous thing–you can end up with pieces that, despite their amazing!!!! price, you never wear.  

Sure, there’s something to be said for cruising through the mall to relieve stress and window shop, but I always have a good mental tab on what’s in my closet and what would be nice to have.  For instance, right now, I don’t have a light-weight navy cardigan I can wear to work.  I have a thick one that’s good for winter, but none that would keep me warm in my chilly office but not cause me to  sweat outside.   On my mental shopping list, I have a navy cardigan.    There a few other things on there as well that, over time, I’ve noticed would be a good addition to my wardrobe.   But, they are not things I need to go buy right now in order to function.

I think it’s helpful to know what you want because it keeps you focused.  I could see a great deal on a tangerine cardigan, but I know that navy would be a better choice…. I’m going to hold off on the good deal so I can get what I ultimately need.  

If you know you need a comfy pair of work heels, and that’s your number one criteria, you’re not going to be swayed by the six inch stilettos that are on crazy markdown.  You don’t need them.   Put them down.

4.  Know your emotions.

Finally, know your emotional state before you go shopping.  Something I used to be guilty of was going shopping and buying myself something to make myself feel better.  I’m telling you–you feel okay for awhile, but it’s just a band-aid on your real problems.  Spending money isn’t the solution to what’s making you upset–go fix whatever you need to fix, and then come back when you’re in a good mind state.

I think another shopping mood that we get into is body image.  There are times when I’m out, and I feel horrible about myself and how I look, and I’ll buy something just because it doesn’t make me feel like a fat troll.  Did I really need that XXL knit sweater?  No.  It’s not even my size.  But, I bought it because I felt bad about myself and wanted to hide in wool.

I think bringing a friend along is a great way to negate this impulsive, emotional kind of shopping.  A good friend will be honest with you, and will let you know when you’re throwing away money.


Wow.  This turned out a lot longer than I thought, but hopefully some of these tips will help you avoid getting duped by your favorite store.

Do you guys have any good tips on how to be a savvy shopper?  Let me know!  I’d love to hear them!






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3 Responses to “How Your Shopping Choices are Affected by Numbers”

  1. Stephers July 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Love this post!!

  2. Ruby Woo July 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Thanks boo!!

  3. Franziska July 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    This was a great post. I have so many things to say about it, but you basically said it all already. I get giddy when I get a great deal, and make sure to tell everyone (whoops, did that yesterday on instagram…). I'm trying to hard to reign in the shopping (this month I will stick to the budget!!!) but, as you know, its hard 😦 like I said, I could say so much more but you already said it 🙂

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