Predictably irrational

It’s been a few years since I read Predictably Irrational, a really interesting book that’s written by Dan Ariely. But I was living the concept today.

If you’re not familiar with the book, Ariely discusses a lot of fascinating patterns that happen in our decision making processes, and what drives us as consumers.

I had to fight my own irrational instincts today. You see, I have an utterly Pavlovian response to the word “sale.”

It’s forty years of hard wiring, after all. My father was very frugal and eventually, I became frugal too. Living in those post-college years meant stretching a buck as far as it could go – lots of ramen noodle soup on the menu.

I was a big fan of outlet malls, floor models and clearance racks. And those things can all be great – if you need the item and if it’s still a valuable item to buy.

It took me a long time to learn that sometimes, for some goods, you have to invest money in a sensibly priced item that will last much longer than a cheaply made version. (Anyone who’s ever had an Old Navy t-shirt turn into a ball of string after 3 washings knows what I mean.)

And today’s lesson? Well, we live next door to a warehouse for a major retail chain that sells bath and shower accessories. I’m all about shower gel and about product (yes, I’m trying to save the remaining 38 strands of hair on my head). But I didn’t care for their products when I’d tried them before.

Yet they had a big warehouse sale today, and I kept looking out the window, fighting the urge to go over and spend money on items I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like simply because they were on SALE.

I was successful at avoiding the sale, so maybe my rewiring attempts are paying off!

If you haven’t checked out Predictably Irrational, it’s well worth a look. The famous “jam” study is discussed – some years back, a grocery store chain did an experiment with varieties of jam.

I find this the most interesting aspect: the more choices that a consumer was given, the more reluctant they were to make ANY choice. There were far more sales of jam when there was a choice of 6 varieties than when there were 24 types to choose from.

I especially find this interesting because we’re seeing more of this in stores. I don’t know whether it’s a result of this research, or whether it’s a way to manage inventory and control costs in this recession, but where you used to have six, maybe eight choices of an item, we’re seeing more twos and threes.

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