A purchase “whose object fails to meet the buyer’s expectations”. This is how the Duden defines it a bad buy. The author Claire Beermann puts in “Time Magazine” the finger even more directly into the wound. She writes: In the case of a bad purchase, everything was fine with the product, “unfortunately not with self-perception. You had a wrong idea of your own taste, of your own life”.
Carrying things home in shopping bags that you don’t use or like later, that happens to almost everyone at some point. If you want to reduce your bad buy rate, here are tips from psychologists for more mindful shopping:
Tips against bad purchases
Leaving the tempting situation: Hans-Georg Häusel, neuromarketing expert and psychologist, is reminiscent of Odysseus, the hero of Greek mythology. In order not to fall prey to the singing of the sirens on a sea voyage, he had himself tied to a mast of the ship. He instructed his sailors to plug their ears with wax.
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People don’t have to resort to such drastic measures these days. But what helps to avoid bad buys is to actively evade the stimulus. So: leave the store, close the website or uninstall the online shop app. Especially when discounts make buying seem even more tempting.
Reward yourself differently: “If a stage went well, we buy to reward ourselves. And if it went badly, we buy to compensate for the frustration,” says Georg Felser, professor of business psychology at the Harz University. Rewards could be substituted to a certain extent, i.e. exchanged. Instead of going shopping when you are frustrated or happy, you can get used to other behaviors that suit your personality. If you like being outside, you might want to take a trip into nature instead of buying equipment for the next hiking tour. If you like to read, borrow a book from the library instead of buying one in the bookstore.
Train to resist
Recognize what needs the purchase should meet: “From a cultural perspective, we’ve been conditioned to see shopping as a reward,” says environmental psychologist Lee Chambers. In order to counteract emotional purchasing decisions, it helps to question them and to understand their therapeutic effect. “It also allows us to get to the bottom of the needs we’re trying to meet through shopping and what other activities can have similar benefits without hurting ourselves financially.”
Train resistance: Psychologist Hans-Georg Häusel says that people are capable of learning to a certain extent when it comes to consumer behavior. Anyone who tends to make impulse purchases should – as a kind of training – stroll through the city center more often and not buy anything. This will probably not always work, but it may reduce the bad buy rate. “Man is not the master of his own house. Sigmund Freud already knew that,” says the expert.
“Bad purchases are often impulsive purchases”
Keep the overview: How much money is actually still in the account? What foods are stored in the fridge at home? Anyone who has an overview knows better which products he or she should really buy. Writing a shopping list can also be helpful. “However, some people who go shopping with a shopping list ultimately want to be rewarded for their discipline,” interjects business psychologist Georg Felser. This is how things end up on the cash register that are actually unnecessary.
Why do people buy things they don’t need?
The espresso pot is gathering dust on the kitchen counter. The bright yellow dress has been hanging in the closet with the price tag for months. Everyone knows such bad buys. Why do they keep happening? And how to avoid them?
Sleep on it one night: Not only spatial distance can help, but also temporal. “Bad purchases are often impulsive purchases,” explains Georg Felser. He advises not to decide immediately. You can also use the reflection period to compare prices.
After a while, the product doesn’t appear to be that important anymore. Or you are sure: I need this thing! It’s probably not a bad buy then. There are different pieces of advice on how long this reflection period should be. When in doubt, you know yourself best – and you shouldn’t cheat yourself by choosing too short a period of time to think about it.
Pay cash – and think of the consequences
Consider the sufficiency pyramid: If you need something, you don’t have to buy it again. Other types of consumption are the better choice, says the German Environmental Foundation. In order to illustrate how conscious and sustainable consumption works, the foundation the sufficiency pyramid designed. The concept can also be found under the name “anti-consumer pyramid”.
Its structure is reminiscent of the well-known one food pyramid. What is at the bottom of the sufficiency pyramid is a behavior that should be particularly important in terms of sustainable consumption. The higher up a behavior is, the less often it should be performed.
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From bottom to top, the pyramid lists the following consumption alternatives:
1. Use the things you have
2. Do it yourself, repair it (have it done) or upcycle it
3. Exchange things
4. Borrowing things
5. Buy things used
6. Buying things new
Pay cash: If you pay in cash, you will see your wallet getting emptier. This can help to choose and buy things more consciously. “However, nowadays our money is always available in the form of mobile phones or credit cards,” interjects psychologist Hans-Georg Häusel.
Become aware of the consequences: Sometimes it can be really hard to stop buying. After all, when you stand in the store, you are sure: This is exactly the product I need – and I need it now. But what about in a few weeks? To avoid the part later turning out to be a bad buy, it helps to think further ahead. Can the frog green sneakers be easily combined with the existing wardrobe? Isn’t there already a very similar frying pan in the cupboard?
And if you buy things you don’t need, you’re not acting sustainably – neither towards the climate nor towards your own wallet. Selling or giving away bad purchases is a losing business.