Funny word, that. For some people, that word is like catnip. When that email plops into that mailbox, eyes light up, plans are made, research is done. (Flights may even be booked.) Then, in the store, or online, there’s a frenzy: hunt, buy, hunt, buy.
And who doesn’t want to pay less for something? I am pleased to say that I have bagged a few great bargains in my life…those gold mesh Manolo Blahniks I’d bought for $50 and sprayed black (worn with pleasure for years now) or the better knife set at 50% off. Or the super low fare to London where I had that life changing Christmas holiday. Yes, of course.
But a few years ago, as I did my annual wardrobe cull, I realized something: that the items I was culling were invariably the ones I’d bought on sale somewhere. Even the epic buys: a jacket I’d seen at full price, hesitated about and not bought, then snapped up months later when I’d seen it marked down 75% (I wore it once.) Or the amazing pair of designer shoes with a red sole I’d bought at 60% off. (Ditto.) Or that…it’s a list that fills me with guilt, a little shame, and gobs of regret.
But after a few more culls, I got to thinking – if I wouldn’t buy it at full price, should I be buying it at all? I don’t think so. Paraphrasing the bard, let’s kill all the sales.
This kind of thinking, of course, can get you drummed out of this country.
Sales are the crack cocaine of retail, as we’ve seen for the big chains come the holiday season. They all know it doesn’t do great things for their brand or profits, and yet they feel they have to do it. Or, go into stores like Banana Republic, and see how quickly things go on sale (they’re training their customers to buy ONLY on sale, making those who buy at full price feel like true chumps) and how much of their store is taken over by sales racks.
ThIs was the same unease I had over that whole GroupOn/Gilt/Fab/One Kings Lane flash sale phenom. In the frenzy of the flash sale, you would end up getting something you were on the bubble about simply because it was “such a bargain.” Sales in this guise are a manipulation, and, as I’ve heard from retailers and merchants who have run GroupOn and Fab sales … the customers come for the quick hit, and rarely convert to be long-term customers. It’s an expensive form of customer acquisition for them…which turns into cost increases for consumers like us in the long term. And guess what, people have gotten hip to this, and flash sales sites are struggling, according to Business of Fashion. (Let’s share a moment of smugness. 3,2,1. Ok that was good.)
And that whole phenomenon of…”Oh, I’ll buy it and if I don’t like it at least I won’t have spent a fortune on it…” that’s so dangerous, particularly if you don’t love it and end up dumping it in 6 months. Not good for your wallet (you’ve wasted whatever price you’ve paid), it’s a literal waste (wretched for the environment), and you’ve sent a signal to the manufacturer/retailer that that particular product was good enough, and that they should make more stuff that they just have to mark down to get rid of. When successive big sales are marked into the cost of a product, you know there’s a lot of fat in the price you’re paying, even the sale price.
Now I have friends who look at sales as a bit of bloodsport: there’s the thrill of the hunt, the find, the share. Yes, I can see that, and while I love you (you know who you are) there must be better ways to spend your time.
My take: stop hunting for the sale. Stop making the sale a social occasion where forces other than good sense can take over. If you love something enough to buy it, buy it at full price. Assuming you’ll be keeping it for a long time (which you should if you love it) how much you paid for it should matter less. If you happen to come across a sale on something you were going to buy anyway, great. Indulge in those crazy good buys of course, but indulge selectively.
The whole sale frenzy just doesn’t lead to anything good. Sales are a short term boost for retailers, not necessarily good for you. I’d go so far as to say: honor merchants who don’t discount but who truly do give you lower every day prices (hello Everlane.) And if you’re worried about value, and not paying for fat, buy from smaller scale manufacturers who work with thinner margins and don’t have a lot of discounting power.
Of course, lower prices are nice to have as long as they’re economically sustainable for the merchant. But for many, it’s less about the money, and more about what you’re buying and how you feel about it. Don’t be seduced by the sale if you don’t want to deal with the regrets.