Scarcity and escalation of commitment as means of persuasion

Last weekend we went to a factory sales event of a clothing brand. Apparently, the event was so well advertised that the factory was jam-packed with warrior/shopper women. Honestly, I can’t remember how many times a lady hit me in the shoulder or stepped on my foot (Albeit, I don’t recall receiving a single apology). According to their ad everything was “up to 70%” off. But, I am fairly sure there was an item or two that were actually 70% off. The rest of the cloths were in the range of 30-40%. However, when you commit to spending at least part of your Saturday in a factory, you automatically convince yourself that everything is indeed 70% off. That was the trap we fell into. We tried on some jackets, but none of them were interesting enough. Then we said, at least let’s buy a belt! But, two days later we realized that we actually paid almost the full price for the belt! How did that happen? Are we that silly? Well, there were two psychological factors in play. Let me explain them.

Shopping crazeFirst, because of the misleading ads, we thought there was an amazing sale. You needed a microscope to read the words “up to” in the ad as they were written with the smallest font. Who cares? Everything was 70% off just that day… Who would be silly enough to at least not check such a sales event? This is the power of scarcity, which only explains why the factory was packed.

The second psychological factor was commitment. We drove all the way to the factory, looked for a place to park the car for 10 minutes, then spent 30 minutes literally getting beaten up by crazy women. When we decided to leave the factory, we said to ourselves “Let’s at least buy a belt.” We felt good at that moment because it would be silly of us to waste our precious time to drive to a factory, spend half an hour and then just leave empty handed. Because, we made a choice and every step reinforced our decision. Here is how Professor Robert Cialdini explains our silliness:

“People have a general desire to appear consistent in their behavior and they stand by commitments made by providing further justification and reasons for supporting them. This pattern of behaviour toward or resulting in a negative outcome is called escalation of commitment. Compliance professionals can exploit the desire to be consistent by having someone make an initial, often small, commitment. Requests can then be made that are in keeping with this initial commitment.”

As you see, we were lured in by an illusion of scarcity. That was the job of the marketer. But, it was our psychological commitment that emptied our pockets.  Once we were in, it was game over.

Today’s actionable insight: There are very powerful tools of persuasions. You can learn more by reading the Influence: Science and Practice. You can either apply those tactics to sell your products, or to protect yourself from being exploited by sales professionals.

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4 Replies to “Scarcity and escalation of commitment as means of persuasion”

  1. Funny! (Or sad…) I would also recommend reading ‘How We Decide’ by Jonah Lehrer, if you haven’t already checked it out. BTW, I am always a victim to consistency.

    1. Thanks Idil. I haven’t read that book yet, but I am already searching it on Amazon 🙂
      There are ways to break the curse of consistency! Maybe on my next post I can concentrate on that. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Hi Gunther,

    I’m glad you wrote about this; it sheds a light to what goes on in our own heads when we throw up our hands and say, “What the heck, I’ll just buy it.”

    Also, from the company’s perspective, interesting to see the 2 steps: captivating lure (sale!) + inherent commitment (drive a long way) = purchase

    Thanks for the post, and greetings from Vancouver!


  3. Thanks Lisa for your comment!
    I am glad I gave you some thoughts about why we buy things. If you are interested in this topic, the book I mentioned in my article is a great source.

    Keep me posted from Vancouver!


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