This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure here.
Every morning I wake up to an inbox that has over 150 new emails, mostly all sharing “today’s great deal” at various websites. The titles are all well crafted to make you long to open it as fast as possible with the fear that it could self-destruct the deal is so good. After you open it, your dreams are smashed to learn that it isn’t “Free Shipping” as you hoped but instead free shipping on any $100 order. Or they said the entire Swim line was on sale, but really it was the entire clearance section that was red and orange in color on sale.
To help save you from remorse over deals that just weren’t as good as you thought, lets cover some of the worst advertising tactics used by online and local marketers.
7 Bad Advertising Tactics (and How to Spot a True Sale)
You have 4 hours to open the email and grab the deals before the sale is over. Guess what the same deals will be back in another week or two. Rarely (like .05%) is there a deal that never returns. This tactic along with any other time-sensitive sale is just used to get you to jump now. Their goal is that you will throw caution to the wind and buy something you will never use and have really never even wanted just because time is running out. Think of TV shopping channels—if they removed that little clock counting down on the screen odds are their sales would plummet.
Before jumping on these deals, do your homework. Head to other sites and see what their price is for the same item. Make sure to consider shipping costs when comparing the deal. I would also recommend that you set an amount for yourself that if the value of the item is over a certain amount, you won’t jump on it right away. When my husband and I were first married we read a book by Crown Financial Ministries. I don’t remember anything about the book (not even the title), but I do remember one thing they said. This is the perfect solution to online flash sales:
Set a limit for purchases that each spouse can make without having to consult the other spouse first. For example, anything $25 or less can be purchased without discussion. Anything over that amount not only gets discussed it also gets put off for a bit. Create a list and anything you want (not need) that is over a certain amount (we said $40) gets put on the list. After thirty days if you still want it, and you both agree, then you can start to shop for it.
Remember that 4 hour sale from last week? Well, guess what—it’s still running. I can’t count the number of deals that I see that are “extended.” I searched my email for just one brand at a time. Not to pick on Land’s End, but look at these three emails that all came over a 4 day period:
I’m curious what tomorrow’s email will be. This is another huge reason to not believe the time sensitive sale. Don’t rush out and overspend just to get the deal. That deal will more than likely be there 4 months from now.
Is it really free? Most of the time you’ll open an email or see a banner that flashes “FREE SHIPPING” just to click and see that it’s free shipping with any $50 purchase. Free is free. The only plan here is to get you to spend way more than you planned to. It gets even worse when they give you a push saying, “You only need $17.10 more to qualify for free shipping.” They aren’t trying to save you any money; they’re just trying to increase the amount that you spend.
With shopping online, I urge you to say no to shipping that is only free after you hit a certain threshold. The best deals always include free shipping. I guess I’ll make an exception for shipping thresholds that are super low… maybe $10-$15…
Have you ever caught a sale that cost more than the original price? It’s incredibly common for sites to mark up items before they mark them down. This requires the same homework as flash sales; you have to look at prices for the same item at other sites. Another tactic that falls under this section is falsely inflated regular prices. The site tells you the regular price is $400 and they put it on sale for $25. In reality, no one has ever sold that item for $400.
There are a number of daily deal sites that play this game. You should ALWAYS do a price check on other sites before buying.
Tip; You can check Amazon prices over time for a specific item on the site CamelCamelCamel. It’s a funny name but you’ll love actually knowing if the markdown is real.
A technique used for centuries was to get women all riled up about a product or a cause. Women like to talk, and even more importantly, women don’t like to think they aren’t doing what everyone else is doing. This is the tribe mentality. We long to conform (even if say we don’t). You want the latest spring fashions or for your kids to have the cool toys at Christmas. Those are really light examples of how this tactic works, though.
Personally, I see this as becoming a huge driver of grocery sales. There are so many products hitting the shelves now that are driven exclusively through scare tactics and guilt. If you feed your child Fruity Crunch they will go crazy and not learn well, so instead buy this GMO-free, color-free, sugar-free alternative. I’m not saying that there may not be truth to the tactics; I’m just pointing out that they are there. The problem, however, is that many parents out there are barely making ends meet. Now you have them scared that their kids will not be right unless they spend a ton on special foods. Feed your family and don’t be pressured into buying items you can’t afford just because of what the social gossip world is saying today. In reality, they will change their cause in a year or two and odds are that health food you paid 200% more for will then be evil.
Going Out of Business
This is the classic game started by retailers long before the Internet came around. Every year they go out of business and sell products at never-see-before prices, but yet they never close. Now we are seeing stores actually close, but they promote their closing up to 6 months out. They are trying to play off your sense of urgency and supply and demand.
For local stores, grocery stores etc. follow the same online rules you normally would. Our goal is to only buy things at least 40% off. If you have stores closing that are offering 20-30% off, wait. The deals will get better. Yes, the supply is smaller, but this is really when the deals start.
Fake Pictures, Houses and Food
If you are ever shopping for furniture, you almost need to do it with your eyes closed. Every ad online, in magazines, and even in store is doctored to make you long to own it. Clothing and cosmetics are also guilty of doctoring most visual ads. Grab some CoverGirl makeup and your own personal Photoshop expert and you can look like this star. In reality, you will never look like a movie star, but odds are you are way more beautiful than them anyway!
You’ve probably also long ago learned that buying that $2000 couch from Pottery Barn won’t make your house look like a beach house or a serene retreat, either. They never show real life in ads. Where are the kids with their toys everywhere or the Sharpie marker that your two-year-old took to a couch pillow?
Food marketers are also guilty here. I once went on a trip to Smucker’s headquarters in Ohio. It was a great trip but also eye opening. I’m not a foodie; I cook simple meals and eat them. Food photography is a billion dollar business right now, though, with huge tricks of the trade. Odds are that piece of pie on the front of the magazine isn’t even edible; they have coated the outside in Vaseline so that it doesn’t look crumbly, and the ice cream sitting on top… yeah, it’s really a scoop of mashed potatoes.
What is a Real Sale?
To get the best prices you don’t need to follow any marketing tactics. Just keep an eye on what you want, learn it’s regular price and then watch for coupons. A great place to grab coupons is RetailMeNot.com (they also have an app that is perfect to find in-store coupons). You want to find coupons that are at least 30% off and offer free shipping.
This isn’t a rushed thing; take your time. The slower the purchase, the less remorse you have and the more you know you got the best deal possible!