I didn’t need the fancy dog treats.
Seriously, my dog has plenty of treats. She hates most of them. But I’d just bought her a new bowl, and Amazon told me that other people who bought the bowl also bought these delicious dog treats.
Obviously, I bought the fancy dog treats.
The psychology behind that decision will be on full display, on a massive scale, for Amazon Prime Day on Monday (and also apparently Tuesday, and also there are some “early” deals this weekend). Like every major retailer in America, Amazon has a trove of tricks it plays on consumers to get you to spend a bit more money.
Don’t worry. Experts in consumer behavior say there are some ways to combat this.
Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind, said on Prime Day, Amazon’s doing more than marketing great sales — the company is using psychology to draw in people and change their behaviors. Below are five tricks Amazon plays, plus tips for navigating them:
Prime Day itself is an old tactic: Make consumers think a price or a product is only available for a limited time, causing them to conduct their own cost-benefit analysis and purchase something because they think the product or price won’t last. Experts say this is one of the driving factors behind Black Friday sales. Some of those deals are actually good prices; others just seem like it. But making you think they’re going away is key either way.
Amazon quite literally highlights this. On Friday morning, I perused the site’s “early” Prime Day deals, which include what appears to be a price slashing on the Fire TV Recast, Amazon’s “DVR for cord cutters” offering.
Highlighted in orange at the top of the page: “Prime-exclusive: For a limited time.” It goes on to tell me I can get a 2-tuner Fire TV Recast for $129.99 rather than $229.99. (For what it’s worth, Amazon price tracking site CamelCamelCamel says this really is a good deal.) The company is banking on me getting scared the price won’t last and pulling the trigger.
Not unlike Black Friday, Prime Day will feature products that those in the consumer industry call “loss leaders,” or products sold at a loss specifically to attract customers. That DVR box could be a loss leader, intended to draw me in so I start perusing the other Prime Day deals.
Yarrow recommends making a list before you shop of anything you need or want to buy. That way, if you buy something at a crazy-good price, congratulations! Now, if there’s nothing left on your list, close the window.
And, if you’re buying a major item, don’t just consider Amazon, she said. Some other retailers have announced they’re running sales early next week as well and may try to draw you away from Amazon with an even lower price.
The same concept of price scarcity drives so-called “lightning deals,” which are quickly expiring sale prices. The deals use price-scarcity principles to encourage consumers not only to buy quickly, but to return to the site over and over again in anticipation of a particularly good price they might miss. In past years, Amazon has even showed the expired lightning deals, which experts say is a ploy to get people to feel like they really missed out.
Yarrow said that “fear of missing out” will bring them back, as will language like: “New deals starting as often as every five minutes.”
“You inspire fear when you say ‘this sale is only going to last two days,’ ” she said. “Also, ‘sales’ indicate to consumers that there’s a limited quantity of merchandise.”
Amazon uses algorithms to recommend the next product we should buy. My homepage, for instance, right now shows that Amazon knows: I probably have a dog, I have been thinking about ways to sleep better, I sometimes buy frivolous travel gadgets, and I have a current obsession with headbands.
What Amazon does with its recommendation algorithms might be even more powerful than the FOMO-inducing price-scarcity tricks, Yarrow said. The way to combat this is to think about your objectives before you even go to the site.
Beyond recommending products based on past browsing history, the company tells you after you make a purchase that “other people who bought this item viewed X." Yarrow said they’re making you tap into a tribe-like mentality by feeling like “if everybody else is doing this,” it must be right/ better/ cheaper, etc.
That’s really powerful on a day like Prime Day for, say, someone who bought a deeply discounted TV for $499. Maybe they get served a recommendation for a $49 smart remote, feel like everyone else who bought that TV also got the cool remote, and end up buying the remote, even though they didn’t actually need (or even want) the remote.
There’s a movement afoot to boycott Amazon for its labor practices. It’s hard to predict what impact that campaign could have. But what is easy to tell is that there are undoubtedly folks who struggle with Amazon’s ethics but who will buy something on Prime Day anyway.
Yarrow said consumers are in some ways addicted to the convenience of Amazon and often believe they have the lowest prices, even if they don’t. She said some folks are drawn to the reduction in everyday hassles, while others invested in a Prime membership ($119 a year) and want to get their money’s worth.