Amazon boxes

Retailers use email to trick you into ordering things you might not really want

If you have time to read this article you have time to unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe (if you wanna)

Check your email inbox right now. Of the first ten messages in there, how many are from people you actually know? How many are about topics that interest you? If you’re anything like most of the population (i.e. not very organized when it comes to emails), chances are that most of your messages will be from retailers and service providers, reminding you of products you recently viewed, or offering you deals and discounts.

“Have you forgotten something…?”

“It’s waiting for you!”

“We’ve saved these bits and bobs you had your eye on…”

We've all seen these lines before. Some retailers even offer a declining discount – for example, if you order within the next hour, you’ll get 20% off. Within the hour following it’ll be 15%. And for the rest of the day, it’ll be 10%. This is a clever way of incentivizing the customer to buy a product straight away. Constant reminders of a product we'd been mulling over will alter our , and we might feel we really should make that purchase, without really thinking through whether we actually wanted it or not.

Now, it's not like these offers are always a bad thing – you might be a frequent shopper at a particular retailer, or you might just have forgotten to complete a purchase and be grateful that they're reminding you of it. But the interesting thing to note is how much their tactics play on economics knowledge about how the brain works.

It pays to be aware of the mind games that marketers play with your inbox


Amazon emails in different languages
Amazon makes sure you know about their sales, whichever country you happen to be in that day

Mailing list marketing is just the latest in a long list of that retailers use to tease us into buying more. Advertising has often used the technique of playing on insecurities and doubts – the well-known 'FOMO" (fear of missing out) on a great discount is no different.

Creating insecurity through advertising dates back years.  A newspaper advert for Listerine in the 1930s featured the headline “What she really wanted was children”, and told the story of a woman whose loneliness was brought on by bad breath. Recent disinfectant ads that personify germs as terrifying monsters. And who could forget this controversial Veet ad, telling women to buy Veet to avoid risking “dudeness”?

The principle behind all of these is pretty similar – you're missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime, fantastic opportunity if you don't take advantage of this discount.

... So you don’t end up buying more stuff you don’t need

This, of course, could lead to spending money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. We think we’re saving money by getting these deals – but would we necessarily have bought the item at the more expensive price in the first place if we hadn't been reminded of it so many times over?  An exclusive discount code isn’t so exclusive when it’s emailed to half the country.

Not let it go! Let it goooooo! (At least I would)

Meme from Frozen

So, what can you do about it?

Personally, I'd set aside an afternoon or evening to sort through my email inboxes, scroll right down, and click 'unsubscribe' on all those emails, freeing myself from that temptation to buy just one more thing. You might feel differently – you might love receiving these offers, need a way to kill time, and/or have a job that involves writing these emails yourself. Fair game! I'm just here to point out the economic thinking. The rest is up to you.

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