The “Sale” = “Saving Money” Fallacy (i.e. Amazon Prime Day)

Another year, another Amazon Prime Day behind us. I watched with amusement as a number of news, life-hacking, and even personal finance websites I follow couldn’t withhold their excitement over the “red-hot” deals that Amazon was dishing out with their annual sale for Amazon Prime members.

Often times, their description of Amazon’s offers were represented as “Save (insert percentage or dollar amount) on (insert item).”

It’s easy to make the leap from “XYZ item is on sale” to “I’m saving XYZ if I buy this item today”.

In fact, Amazon customers reportedly made that leap over 100 million times this year, to the tune of an expected $3.6 billion.

amazon prime dayBut here’s the thing – for a true item of need, you wouldn’t be waiting for that magical day once per year when Amazon chooses which of it’s millions of items to randomly assign a discount to, just for the small chance hope that the item you need is one of them. No. If you truly needed the item, you’d already have it.

Therefore, you’re NEVER saving money on anything you buy on Amazon Prime Day. You’re spending money on something you didn’t need in the first place and wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

And that’s what Amazon Prime Day does. Through the psychology of “discount scarcity” (here today, gone tomorrow), you’re given permission to pull a Jedi mind trick on yourself by masking a bad behavior (buying something you don’t need) with what is typically a good behavior (saving money). And it’s a trick that many of us eagerly and willingly fall for.

I’m picking on Amazon here, but Amazon Prime Day is not alone. It joins Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the many “hurry, this best-ever, limited-time sale won’t last forever” sales that almost every retailer hooks their customer base with every few weeks or months. We’re conditioned to this cycle, yet we fall for it time and time again. And it’s no small coincidence that the average household has over 300,000 items.

The only true “savings” from a sale come from discounts on items you actually need to buy. For example:

  • When the grocery items you normally buy are discounted (in which case, stock up as much as you logistically can!).
  • Your tires need replacement and a local tire retailer just happens to be running a “Buy 4, get $100 off” promo.
  • Your socks have holes in them, you go to the store to buy some new ones, and all socks are 20% off.

Those are true savings.

In fact, with Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other retail sales, the stuff that they are most likely to discount is the stuff that is heavily overstocked (supply far exceeded demand). So it’s REALLY stuff you don’t need. It’s the retailer’s garage sale, if you will.

In short, don’t fall for these sales gimmicks. Learn how to label your purchases correctly, control your wants, and only buy the stuff you need to buy when you need to buy it. If it’s randomly on sale at the time you buy it, great! If not, so be it. You may think that missing out on a sale is no fun – buy buyer remorse is always worse.

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