A must-read new article in Popular Science explains why deal-hunting feels good in the moment but ultimately leaves us unsatisfied with our purchases. The article traces our deal-hunting back to the Great Recession, but I believe it’s origins go back to the 1990s with the rise of big box stores. American retail is unique in that most clothes are sold through huge corporations, discounters and big box stores, including Amazon, Walmart, Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx, Ross. And even if we personally don’t shop in these places, their pricing and market pressure has turned us into incessant deal hunters.
Other countries have a much more diverse and independently run retail scene. Big box stores have used their size and market share to push the price of clothing down dramatically since the 1990s. So when we Americans shop, we’re constantly aware of the fact that while one store (say Macy’s or Nordstrom) is trying to charge us $60 for a shirt, there is a perfectly cute shirt for sale in many other stores for $10. So why pay more?
What this article provides that’s so important is actual proof and concrete science that shopping based on achieving a discount is a very good predictor of dissatisfaction with what we buy. In fact, the consumer psychologist, Kit Yarrow, interviewed in this story called bargain hunting, “the biggest psychological landmine for consumers right now.”
This revelation has huge ramifications for conscious fashion. Part of the reason ethical or sustainable products are such a tough sell is that consumers don’t want to pay the price difference partially because, as this author explains, we’re addicted to deals. What small fashion company can compete with the deals offers by these mega corporations? They can’t.
Part of what I try to convey in my work is that buying for quality and buying things you love is the most sustainable thing you can do. But if we’re shopping based on discounts, we’re getting further and further away from that goal.
But there’s also a clear way out of this conundrum. This article reminds people that deal hunting is not a productive or fulfilling way to choose clothing (or anything else). It feels good in the moment only. It actually deprives of the joy that can come from loving the things we own. This is tragic since the right clothing can and should make us feel confident and happy. Instead of looking for how much of a discount we’re getting, we should ask ourselves if we are excited about the fit, the fabric, the texture, the color, the print, or really other feature of the actual thing we’re buying. Clothing is such a source of joy and pleasure when we choose right for ourselves. And choosing right often means looking right past that half-off sale sign for something better.