Online retailers are reading your mind — and profiting from it

Like many people, I’m a sucker for a good deal. I absolutely love the thrill of the hunt and the rush I get when I find what I’m looking for at a price much lower than retail.
While this behavior has saved me money in the past, I’ve noticed lately my shopping habits have changed. And by changed, I mean they’ve increased ... noticeably increased.

So after a few minutes (well, seconds) of reflecting, I realized what’s been going on.

I’ve been bitten by the online shopping bug.

Now I’m not talking about just any online shopping. I’m referring to those websites that offer quality, designer merchandise at (seemingly) deep discounts. It’s as though these websites have done the hunting for me and are delivering presents in the form of awesome deals to my inbox every day.

Upon this realization, I found an article that explained how these websites are breeding shopaholics with seductive tactics that people (like myself) are helpless to resist.

The following are two interesting methods websites use to tap into your shopping psyche.

The science of scarcity

Because scarcity generates demand and encourages people to buy sooner, online retailers capitalize on this by using tactics to ensure you realize just how scarce the item is.

Some websites will show you how many items they have left in the size you’re looking at (and it conveniently seems like there’s always only one left.)

They will also tell you that the item is already in someone else’s cart, but check back in a few minutes to see if it’s available. This, of course, makes you covet that item even more because people tend to want what they think they can’t have.

These are some ways website display scarcity to consumers:

  •  “For 1 week only”
  • “2 items in stock”
  • “Sale ends today”
  • “Out of stock - Add to wish list”
  • “This offer ends in 2 days 4 hrs 3 mins 17 secs” (Countdown timers)

Playing mind games

The field of neuromarketing turns your buying habits into a fine science. And retailers are using this science to make a profit.
Research reported in The New York Times shows that if two similar items are next to each other on a web page, but one is selling for $200 and the other for $250, most people will choose the less expensive item. However, if there is a third item added to the mix for, say, $300, people are then more likely to buy the $250 item. The site may have no interest in actually selling the $300 item, but its mere presence on the page makes you more likely to “buy up.”

So keep those tactics in mind the next time you’re tempted to buy that pair of shoes that is 75 percent off for one day only and you have a total of two minutes to decide before your shoes magically land in another person’s virtual shopping cart.

They’re just playing mind games. Don’t let the shoes win.

Jessica Horton is a former copywriter and community manager at MMI.