Scarcity, consumption and the environment

We’re a funny lot – something perceived to be scarce is sometimes perceived to be of more value – even if it doesn’t usually have real value to us. Product X may have never been on our radar and then all of a sudden, it becomes something we must have – now; after all, it’s a limited time offer and only while stocks last.
Responding to the threat of scarcity can be a very good thing as it’s a part of our survival instincts. Awareness of scarcity can be a call to action that saves our lives; particularly when it comes to the basics such as food and water.
The bare essentials aside, what if the perceived scarcity isn’t real? It can trigger us into buying something we don’t really need or want – and that, collectively, has a massive negative impact on the environment.
By understanding some of the tricks and ploys that may be used to get you to part with your money, you can keep more cash in your pocket; which is certainly more environmentally friendly than having junk laying around you may rarely or never use.
If you have ever looked at something you purchased a while back and asked yourself “why the heck did I buy that?”, you wouldn’t be alone. Often you would have fallen victim to a very clever group of pseudo psychologists – marketers. Marketers understand the impact of scarcity on the human psyche and know how to leverage it.
The “call to action” I mentioned is also a common used marketing term for very good reason – it works. A really simple call to action is one you’ll see on many web sites – “buy now”. On a conscious level, it probably doesn’t seem all that cunning, but adding the word “now” does generate more sales in some situations than “buy” on its own.
“Buy now” doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to push a bunch of goods out the door very quickly, so the language and approach needs to be amped up. Hence, the sale. The term “sale” used to be synonymous with genuine offers during a strictly limited timeframe, but at times it seems some companies are always having a sale – and that is because they are; but often in name only.
One call to action I always love is “offer extended by popular demand for a limited time only – get yours now before it’s too late!” type of spiel. 
Offers usually aren’t extended by popular demand, it’s because the company hasn’t hit its sales targets. The company would rather return to the normal pricing, but as they still have stock to get rid of they know they can’t shift quickly at the normal price, they are forced to continue the offer. The “popular demand” is also a psychological trick as it infers just about everyone has bought whatever – except you.
“Limited offer” without an end date can also be deceptive – as the time limit could be a day or two years.
“Prices slashed 50% for today only” sounds very impressive and can trigger you to dive for your credit card, but if the product was grossly overpriced in the first place, maybe it’s not such a good proposition. You may find yourself buying something you don’t really need or want purely because it seems like such a great deal.
“For the first 50 customers only” is incredibly easy to abuse. In some cases, the company calculates what it is likely to sell based on previous offers in order to come up with a number, or the number of sales isn’t counted toward the 50, or they simply extend past the 50 when that cap is reached.
Seeming bargains appeal to not only our basic responses to scarcity and thrift, but to our hunter/collector roots. Finding a “bargain” goes beyond saving money – there can be a rush associated with it; like our ancestors nabbing a particularly fat rabbit or grabbing the biggest, juiciest orange on a tree before competitor animals do.
Another scarcity ploy that doesn’t involve bargain hunting, one that is often associated with higher price tag products, is to control supply in order to keep prices high. Company X may have eleventy gazillion units of a product gathering dust in a warehouse, but they only release a small number at a time in order to keep prices up. Acquiring this product then becomes somewhat of a status symbol and sometimes doesn’t even address a real need. The company does this for as long as they can, until those prepared to pony up for the inflated price have been tapped – then, suddenly a lot more of the product becomes available at a much cheaper price. If the market of big spenders never dries up, then the price never needs to be dropped.
I come across many people who believe they are immune to marketing tricks but I’m yet to find any who truly are. Marketing is a big part of my career; but even with an increased level of awareness it’s certainly not unheard of for me to leave the hardware store with products “on sale”; ones that I may never use or will expire before I get a chance to use them all. 
I thought I was totally immune to those silly TV infomercials until the other day when I saw a multi-function ladder being touted at an amazing price (for 24 hours only of course). I wasn’t even watching the TV at the time; the feigned excitement of the presenter just caught my attention as I was walking past. I stopped to watch, sneering, but gradually became sucked in..
It was only some last minute research on the web that showed me not only it wasn’t on special, but probably wasn’t of good quality. Substantial natural resources would have gone into the construction of the ladder. On further reflection, I remembered my single function ladder has pretty much done everything I needed it to for a decade, and will probably continue doing so for another ten years.
It makes good financial sense to jump on truly great deals; but the pressure of (what appears to be) a time limited special can cloud our judgement. The next time Crazy John is offering a totally insane 75% for the first 50 customers and for today only; stop for a bit, take a deep breath and think on these questions:
– Do I really need it?
– Do I really want it?
– Do I have to have it now?
– Is this deal as good as it seems?
– What is the environmental impact of my purchase?
These are the same sort of questions to ask yourself to help reduce general impulse buying and in other purchase decisions – even when something isn’t on “sale”.
These questions not only apply to “normal” goods and services; but also products being touted as environmentally friendly. Green marketing practices are often just the same as mainstream, but with the added “green” edge (which may be just greenwashing at times) – making them even more powerful.
The other benefit of taking this approach and saving a few bucks is when you do need to purchase something and you want a product that is more environmentally friendly; with green products sometimes being a little more expensive due to being fair trade certified items and/or using better quality natural ingredients, you’ll have the cash available to do so.
Bear in mind though – when considering purchasing even a green product that ” green” consumption is above all about minimising consumption.
And yes, all the above applies to deals and offers you may happen upon while perusing this site too ;).