Sizzling summer sales entice shoppers

Amazon offered discounts on a variety of items during its two-day Prime Day shopping event that began Tuesday, July 12. Photo: The Associated Press
By Jenny Hudak

Amazon offered discounts on a variety of items during its two-day Prime Day shopping event that began Tuesday, July 12. Photo: The Associated Press

Sizzling summer sales entice shoppers

By Jenny Hudak
Claudia Townsend, associate professor of marketing at the Miami Herbert Business School, explains how retail sales tactics influence consumers to make unplanned purchases.

Gabriela Torna was planning to make very few purchases during Amazon Prime Day. But, when she opened the retail site and found that limited edition Funko Pops—collectible pop-culture vinyl figurines—were on sale, she made an impulse purchase. 

“I knew I wanted to purchase a few things that I actually needed. But I’m a huge collector of Funko Pops. When I saw a Thor and Iron Man Funko Pop on sale, I decided I had to buy them,” said Torna, a senior studying creative advertising. 

Like Amazon Prime, many retailers host semiannual sales during the summer months. Shoppers often plan their purchases around these hot deals, hoping to snag their latest must-haves at a discounted price. Customers often walk away from a sale with a purchase that makes them ask themselves, “Did I really need that?”

So, what exactly drives people to make purchases during these special sales?

“Limited time sales are part of a broader tactic in sales. The idea of scarcity increases the perceived value of things,’’ explained Claudia Townsend, associate professor of marketing at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School. 

She explained that perceptions of scarcity can be induced in a number of ways, including limited-time offers or limits on per-customer purchase quantities. “Anything that makes something seem less available makes it feel more attractive to buyers,” Townsend said.

During these limited-time sales, colloquially referred to as “FOMO” or “fear of missing out” marketing, consumers are more inclined to engage in a purchase. Using strategies like placing ticking clock timers on your screen or listing a limited number of items in stock, retailers increase the perceived scarcity of a product. By nature, humans are risk averse, Townsend noted. During these sales, consumers start to feel increased pressure to make a purchase. 

“Consumers think, ‘I don't want to regret [not buying] this,’ ’’ she said. “To not regret, people decide to make these purchases now and figure out later whether that was the right purchase or not.’’

Shoppers tend to jump at the chance to buy everyday items at cheaper prices. In addition to her Funko Pops, Torna used Amazon Prime Day deals to purchase her regular hair products, which have recently increased in price at other retail outlets. 

During these hyped-up promotions, Townsend advises that people try to identify the value of the product, regardless of the sale. 

“Avoid comparing the sale price to the original price when considering whether it’s a good deal,” she said. “If possible, try to evaluate the product and price outside of the context of the sale, the other products with which they are being presented, and the sense of pressure that results from a promotional context.” 

Finally, when comparing purchase options on sale, she also suggests researching the product on primary or secondary resale markets. “Increasingly, items are available for resale, and this is where consumers may be able to find the same goods at a discounted price and also limit their environmental impact.”

But Townsend also noted that retailers and marketers should not be seen as tricksters trying to swindle consumers out of their money. Promotions occur because of a variety of reasons.

“For instance, a retailer may have excess stock of certain items. So, buying a product in bulk or on sale helps you as a consumer, but also helps the business.” she said.