Urgency and arm-twisting

June 15, 2010

In my last post, I talked about how one-day-deal websites exploit your sense of urgency to make you spend money you otherwise wouldn’t.

I became particularly aware of this after reading Robert Cialdini’s Influence.

Cialdini is an American psychologist. His book Influence is all about techniques of persuasion and in particular, how these are used in politics, marketing and sales. Cialdini’s aim in writing the book is ostensibly to enable people to detect when these techniques are being used and thus to protect themselves. But you can’t help noticing from online reviews that marketers and sales people pretty much use his book as a manual.

As Gio would say, I love this book so much I want to marry it. I’m planning to write more about Influence, but for now I want to stick with the urgency thing. Urgency is covered in Influence in the chapter on scarcity:

… Something that on its own merits held little appeal for me had become decidedly more attractive merely because it was rapidly becoming less available.

… people frequently find thimselves doing what they wouldn’t much care to do simply because the time to do so is running out. The adept merchandisers makes this tendency pay off by arranging and publicising customer deadlines that generate interest where none may have existed before.

Those one day sites don’t have to have a 24 hour window. They could be two day sites, or one week sites, or shock! they could have no time limit at all, and just be a remainder warehouse with a catalogue. There’s a reason they have the arbitrary, needless limit of one day only — it’s because they sell more that way than if they just listed their stock and waited for you to come to them. Hence my belief that in keeping tabs on such sites, you’re asking to be sucked in to spend money you don’t mean to.

Cialdini doesn’t mention this, but of course if you’ve only got a few hours, you’re not exactly going to be able to do due diligence as well as if you had a few days. Nor are you going to be able to cool off and reassess the way that you could if you went home from a shop and thought about it.

This stuff is everywhere, of course. We’re still looking for a house (yeah, it’ll be six months soon) and I have been struck by how real estate agents try to create a sense of urgency in you. I have come to detest this as particularly manipulative.

Oh, there’s been a lot of interest. I’m expecting this one to go quickly.  I can let you have a look now — it might not last until the open home. When can I expect your offer — this afternoon? Or shall we say 10 am tomorrow?

There are plenty of houses, pal. If we miss this one, I expect there will be another one soon enough.

On a completely other note, Lisa commented on an old post just now. Cheap chickpeas! Go to it.


  1. I find myself slipping into that sort of thinking on a, well, daily basis when I look at the 3-offers-a-day website. (Night vision goggles, you say? Well it is winter and putting out the rubbish at night has become sort of treacherous…)

    So long as you can placate that initial impulse, however, I think you can find some pretty cheap stuff that you’d buy anyway on those sites. I know I have, on a roughly six-monthly basis.

    • Head torch. It’s much more useful than nightvision goggles; I own two and swear by them. You feel like an idiot for ten minutes, then you realise how handy they are.

      • I would buy a device that could cut down my feeling-like-an-idiot-time to ten minutes in a heartbeat.

    • I’d say that if you check every day but only buy twice a year, you are checking about 130 times for each purchase you actually make (assuming you check on normal business days). Considerable opportunity cost there…

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