Why Can't We Resist These Classic Sales Pitches?

No matter how savvy we are as shoppers, there are still some time-tested sales pitches that will make some of us at least give some thought to making a purchase we otherwise might not have made.

Over at SmartMoney.com, they take a look at 7 tried-and-true pitches, who they are targeted at, and why they still work.

Among the pitches on their list:
*”Get a free gift with your $50 purchase”
“It’s the retail equivalent of finding money on the ground. And shoppers equate added value with a discount — even if they’re spending extra money to get a freebie they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased and might not even use.”

*”Limit 5 per person”
“Limits trigger a feeling that the deal is so great that, if not for that limit-four-per-customer rule, shoppers would be filling their carts to the brim, leaving none for you… Setting a limit increases the likelihood you’ll buy at least one, and it’s even more effective if you were already planning to buy one of the item.”

*”Our Big Sale ends tomorrow/today/in a few hours”
“This tactic appeals to a basic instinct to grab what’s available or be left without… Think of the crowds stocking up on bottled water and canned goods before a major storm comes through. In those frenzied hours, it’s a matter of survival.”

To check out the entire list, go to SmartMoney.com


Edit Your Comment

  1. Supes says:

    For the “free gift” one, I’ll admit I’m a huge sucker for recently-popularized “Free Gift Card with purchase” trend.

    Amazon has gotten so much business from me with their new offerings of $10 or $20 “Video Game Credit” with almost any game preorder. It’s started a cycle where I preorder a game there and get a credit, then preorder a new one to using the credit and get another, and so on….

    • D0rk says:

      Indeed. This past Friday I snagged a Playstation 3 + Move bundle from Amazon’s GoldBox because it had a $50 free credit. Put that towards a GT5 pre-order which I did through Amazon because it gave me another $10 credit.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      Yeah, we’ve learned to shop around the various pre-order bonuses for various video games, because of the businesses which offer pre-ordering, they all have different perks. Amazon’s is usually spot on for our interests.

  2. Nobby says:

    That big orange sign is naughty.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Sometimes the free gift with purchase deals can be helpful. Amazon is offering a free stuffed animal with a $75 purchase in the toy department. If there are enough kids to shop for, the free stuffed animal could also count as a gift for one of those kids or you could donate it to Toys for Tots or something.

    • Moriarty says:

      But it’s not a free gift. “Free gift with purchase” just means that you are forced to buy the bundle of two things – the thing you want, and the “free gift.”

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        Not exactly. For many purchasers, the item may well be something they buy routinely with the free item just icing on the cake.

        • colorisnteverything says:

          Exactly. I was recently on Team Estrogen, a women’s cycling forum. There, they had a deal that if you buy fall/winter stuff from a particular brand you get more fall/winter stuff with that brand ($45.00 stuff). If I needed something right now, such as a good pair of cycling tights, I would easily be paying $100.00 anywhere I go. If I also get a pair of gloves or a baclava in the process (which I actually DO need), I would be spending $45.00 anyway, so it is a savings – if I needed tights.

  4. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    The “Limited time remaining” is one of my problems … Hi, I’m Raydeebug, and I am addicted to Woot.

    Part of the problem with Woot and other flash-sale sites is that their entire business model is based on the consumer’s inability to apply the “Step back a moment and think about it” advice toward preventing impulse purchases. If I hesistate, it might sell out / run out of time. It’s super effective for that reason, and at least they do tend to have decent deals, but oh the things I’ve wooted, for which I have no use, because they were “good deals” …

    • D0rk says:

      Yep. I have about a half-dozen regretted purchases from Woot-offs sitting in my closet/garage right now.

    • Spaceman Bill Leah says:

      Totally agree. Which is why I have a closet full of Thomas the Tank Engine stuff waiting for Christmas because “OMG THIS IS SO CHEAP I HAVE TO GET IT NOW OR I NEVER WILL!!!”

    • njack says:

      Not to mention the regular woot-offs. I can only own so many leak frogs!

    • Kate says:

      Woot just astonishes me with it’s great marketing set up – nothing like a forum of people all complaining about how they got shut out of their choice in color and the take it or leave it short time sale with no recourse to ordering it later when you’ve had more of a chance to decide if you really want it or not.

      It’s a cool set up…. for them.

      • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

        Well, I can honestly say that every time I saw something I wanted on Woot and decided not to get it, I have never regretted the decision to skip on it. And if I decide later that maybe I could have used something like that … I just wait until the next Woot-Off, it will probably come back.

    • JayDeEm says:

      I always apply the “Is this something I have been wanting to buy?” policy to Woot/Slickdeals/etc. I tend to keep a mental shopping list of things I would like to get, but are not urgent or time sensitive. When they pop up on one of the deal sites I still check around on prices, and if it’s a good deal I pick it up.

      The only exception to this rule thus far was the Aero Bed which wasn’t actually on my shopping list, but turned out to be something we could use.

  5. quoterageous says:

    I have never fallen for a “huge meat sale” ever, but I have for the free gift card. In fact I have a few gift cards for things I might never buy. I am living proof that that method works.

  6. tbax929 says:

    My local furniture store is constantly having “Going Out of Business” sales. Yet they continue to remain in business.

    Right now they’re giving away plasma TVs with furniture purchases. I’m furnishing a new house and getting a 50″ and 42″ plasma out of the deal. I should clarify that I’d be buying the furniture anyway. The TVs are just an added bonus.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      There was a lighting store near me that was on clearance for nearly 2 years. Granted, a lot of there stuff was in fact clearance pricing, but not all of it.

    • Gravitational Eddy says:

      Run away from this deal.
      first off, I’d ask about these “plasma” tv’s.
      Where are they at this moment? Are they inside the furniture store? Or are they at the Sam’s Club down the block?
      If they are inside the furniture store, oh boy…. you’d better look real close at one of them -before- you lay down your money. I’m not kidding, I’ve already seen where one unscrupulous dealer sold out his stock of five year old grey market Plasma’s that usually died a horrible screen blanking death after a couple hundred hours.
      Dealer used the TV’s as bait for high dollar ensemble sales, and then vacated the premises with a “Blowout” sale that cleared all his inventory in days. Then he took the money and ran.
      Not seen since, but he’s probably doing it to others again as we speak.
      Remember, older plasmas had a defect rate way higher than LCD tv’s of the same year/issue.
      Sams Club got burnt on this when they first started selling them a few years back.
      When they found out who and what they were buying, a certain company found themselves not selling to Sams or Walmart anymore. I dont think they can sell here in the US anymore.

    • Chmeeee says:

      I would suggest pricing out the TVs elsewhere, negotiate a discount in that amount for the furniture minus the free TV, and then buy the TVs elsewhere. That way you know you’re not getting crap TVs and you don’t spend any more money.

      • tbax929 says:

        Thanks for the tip. I was going to buy the furniture anyway, and the salesman advised me that if I waited a week, I’d get the TVs as part of the deal.

        The furniture price is the same as it was before the “sale” started. If they’re not great TVs, I haven’t lost anything.

    • crashman2600 says:

      Wolfe’s Furniture? They are always giving away TVs or Spaghetti Sauce. Yes I said spaghetti sauce.

    • Kate says:

      Oh cripes, I wouldn’t buy furniture at a cut rate place, it’s almost always way overpriced for what it is and it will fall apart real fast. Go find someplace with good furniture, but not a big name furniture only supplier. Sears and Pennys aren’t bad – Macy’s on sale can actually be a good deal.

    • dru_zod says:

      Seems like a lot of furniture stores pull this “going out of business” trick. There is one furniture store here that has gone out of business at least 10 times even though they’re still around. They went “out of business” at one location, promptly moved to a new location across town, then a year or so later they were going out of business again, and yep, they moved again…back to the original location. They always had a big “going out of business” sale, but whatever didn’t sell they just moved to the next location and sold it at the same darn price.

    • savashley says:

      Every year my family vacations at the same beach, and every year the same store is having a “Going out of business” sale

  7. homehome says:

    i know with myself I see this alot with games in best buy. honestly, wen I go in the store, I see 15 games I want, and maybe 3 I can afford. So I get the gift card and either cut $50 from what I was going to spend or buy another game I wanted anyway. Either way I win.

  8. rpm773 says:

    What? No mention of the giant purple gorilla with out-stretched arms balloon out front or on the roof?

    Whenever I see that, I’m stopping in and buying stuff.

    • Oddfool says:

      I see that here, especially once or twice a year at the local car dealerships. I mean, nothing speaks of quality and class of a BMW or a Lexus more than advertising with a big blue inflatible dinosaur.

  9. dulcinea47 says:

    My dad gets so mad about the phrase “free gift”. When do people charge for a gift? Never, if you do it’s not a gift. The word free is superfluous.

    • FreshPorcupineSalad says:

      Does he also hate “PIN Number” and “ATM Machine”?

    • bishophicks says:

      “Free gift” always annoys me. What other kind is there?

      The other thing I hate is, “save up to 50% – and more!” That makes absolutely no sense.

  10. FreshPorcupineSalad says:

    Step 1. Search online for the lowest price of item.
    Step 2. Order item.
    Step 3. ????
    Step 4. Profit.

  11. evnmorlo says:

    Without item limits there would indeed be people filling their carts to the brim, leaving none for you.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Yep. I noticed that over the course of a year, Wegmans went from having no limits during their 30-cent canned veggie sale to limiting it to 10 cans. I’d get to the store and most of the shelf would be wiped out because people grabbed 30 cans at a time. Most people aren’t willing to make the purchase and come back again to grab 10 more cans so after Wegmans put a limit on the vegetables, the stock didn’t get depleted as quickly.

  12. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I do my very best to base purchases on price compared to usual market price – but I’m sure I get tricked once in a while too.

  13. Murph1908 says:

    I find it funny to listen to Jos. A Bank go off on their most recent sale.

    Every weekend (for 2 days only!) they have some goofball sale. No need rushing out for any of these short-lived deals. The next one will be available next Friday.

    • zifnab0 says:

      Jos. A. Bank’s sales are come and go, the best deals are the “buy 1 suit, get 2 free” and “70% off all suits”. I’m currently waiting for one of those (the 70% off is the best deal, but I’d take the 66% offer because I need some suits).

      • nbs2 says:

        Even better than the Buy 1 Suit, get $1000 in any other merchandise* free?

        *Except shoes. Which is why I didn’t go – I could use another suit, but I need to buy a couple pairs of dress shoes as well.

  14. parliboy says:

    I would like some of this huge meat that’s on sale.

  15. aloria says:


  16. Mecharine says:

    The last one is classic. I get emails from the Gap stores on sales that they are running, and every few days I get one for 30 percent off , limited time offer blah blah blah. I just think to myself I’ll wait for the next 30 percent off deal.

  17. Moriarty says:

    I guess that’s why every infomercial has the same sales pitch, combining several tricks.

    “This thing is only $100!”
    (Mind establishes benchmark of $100 for thing. Hmm, do I want it?)
    “But we’re slashing prices to $50!”
    (Wow, what a great “discount” from the arbitrary benchmark! I was on the fence before, but now it’s twice as good!)
    “Plus, we’ll throw in this other thing!”
    (Something “free,” too? I love free stuff!)
    “But only if you call in the next 5 minutes.”
    (Ahhh no time to think, gotta snatch it before it’s gone!)

    And that’s why you paid $50 for $10 worth of crap that you didn’t actually want.

  18. JulesNoctambule says:

    I hate the phrase ‘free gift’. Hate it. The use of ‘gift’ rather implies ‘free’.

  19. Beeker26 says:

    Of course there is the tried and true infomercial standard — “absolutely FREE!!!*”

    *just pay 3x more than it’s worth for shipping and handling

    FREE means I don’t have to pay for it, period. If I have to pay shipping and handling, guess what, THEN IT AIN’T FREE.

    • Thespian says:

      Sellers on ebay have been doing this a lot lately. $15-$20 shipping charges are not uncommon, and for things that shouldn’t cost anywhere near that amount to ship.

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        It’s against EBay policy. I routinely report these people. It’s always the same scammers doing it. You can always find a better deal than their price plus shipping.

        The reason they do it is so when they fail to ship, or you find something wrong with the purchase, they will refund the purchase price only.

  20. theycallmeGinger says:

    Damn it, Chris, you got my number. I can never resist a huge meat sale!

  21. UltimateOutsider says:

    With my wife, it’s loyalty cards. We have this conversation ALL THE TIME:

    She says, “I just saved $149 at Kohls, can you believe it?”

    I say, “You didn’t save anything- you just SPENT $200 at Kohls!”

    It never ends.

    • theycallmeGinger says:

      Kohl’s is the ultimate offender! They are ALWAYS having a sale. If it’s perpetually on sale, you aren’t saving anything!

    • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

      I just got home from Kohl’s, where I bought some gifts for my niephlings, and noticed that the card reader display brightly highlighted how much I was “saving”, while the actual total was in much dimmer and hard to read.

      I also noticed this fine print on the direct mail piece I got from them the other day: “The ‘Regular’ or ‘Original’ price of an item is the former or future offered price for the item or a comparable item by Kohl’s or another retailer.” So basically, it’s a number, chosen from a quite large range of numbers that have two digits after the decimal point. Or not. But hey, we’re having a SALE!

  22. stint7 says:

    To me, car dealerships are the worst. “Get this 2009 Checy Cobalt for $1000 of the retail price!” Really, I only have to pay 15,000 for a car now, sign me up and give me two!

  23. techstar25 says:

    My favorite one (which they don’t mention) is the “ten for $10” which Winn Dixie uses all over the store.
    Of course, most of the time, if you look closely, you can buy one for $1 (the bulk purchase isn’t required to get that price). However because the sign says 10 for $10, people just tend to grab ten of whatever it is.

    • Smultronstallet says:

      I work in a grocery store that has $10/10 sales nearly every week. Most customers will come through my checkout lane with 10 or 20 of one item, often frantically counting to make sure they do indeed have the “required” number of items. I always inform them that they do not need to purchase in increments of 10 to get the sale price. One can of sale soup will still ring as $1.00. My remarks are frequently returned with looks of incredulity. It’s rather amusing.

    • LinearRegression says:

      What’s even more amusing is that $1 per can is usually more than what the item is priced when it’s not on sale. More likely 79 or 88 cents per can.

  24. mandy_Reeves says:

    i totally did the accessories one when I bought my ipod touch. They make you want to buy the multipacks of itunes cards because they are sooo attractive looking, and all the snazzy cases so you can be like Ooh look at me!

    • Outrun1986 says:

      This comes from someone who just bought an iPod touch. If you don’t buy a case you get a scratched to crap iPod touch in a week or so. I think apple purposely designed the thing with a scratch prone back so that you will fork over the $20-25 for a case to protect it. The back is also slippery so you pretty much need a case if you expect to be holding it in your hand any length of time or it will fall out of your hand and onto the ground.

      Fortunately I bought the $1-3 TPU cases off ebay from china, they are just as good as the cases sold in the stores IMO just without the brand name and have the added benefit of actually being available when the iPod is. If I want to change the color of my case I just buy another for $1 shipped. Cases by other manufacturers take a month or 2 or longer to come out, if you are buying a new model iPod this is a problem. Some stores here still don’t have cases for the newest iPods.

  25. PatrickPortland says:

    I got great one today from a pricey grocery store just today:

    “Half price shrimp, one day only, limit 10 pounds per customer!”

    Triple win, right?

    Oh, right, it’s already “half price” at the fish monger down on the wharf every day (which is where I suspect the grocer gets their inventory in the first place).

  26. jpdanzig says:

    SmartMoney has it wrong; it isn’t “free gift” with your $50 purchase, it’s “FREE GIFT”! There are NO lower case letters in the word “FREE”…

  27. bigsam27 says:

    Intergalactic proton powered electrical tentacle advertising droids. Intergalactic Proton Powered Electrical Tentacle Advertising Droids! INTERGALACTIC PROTON POWERED ELECTRICAL TENTACLE ADVERTISING DROIDS!-Hi I’m Darth Harrington of Darth Harrington’s intergalactic proton powered electrical tentacle advertising droids emporium and moon base! And due to a garbled sub-space transmission we are currently overstocked on all intergalactic proton powered electrical advertising droids! And I’m here to pass the savings on to yooouuuuu!…

  28. H3ion says:

    Some stores (Bloomingdales, Macy’s) have these one day sales. If you go in to buy something, you can always ask the salesperson when the next one day sale will be occurring. Usually, they’ll give you the sale price right then and there if you ask them to. Since it can be 40% off their regular price, it’s worth asking for.

  29. Scoobatz says:

    I still think the biggest sales gimmick is the seeing the (supposedly) previous, cross-out price next to the new, lower marked one.

    There’s a huge psychological difference between seeing something listed for $99 compared to something listed as — previously $250, marked down to $99.

  30. sopmodm14 says:

    better to have and not need, than need and not have

    kinda like insurance, lol

  31. Omali says:

    Of course it’s fine for shops, but whenever I advertise my huge meat sale it’s solicitation.

  32. psm321 says:

    I have trouble with things advertised as 5/$5 or 10/$10, at stores without the requirement that you actually buy the 5 or 10 items to get the $1 price. Still tempted to buy 5 or 10 of the item even though I know it’s an advertising tactic.

  33. Mike Zuniga says:

    Holy shit, I live two blocks away from that grocery store. It’s in Pittsburg, KS.

  34. Ben says:

    What about “Call now and we’ll DOUBLE your order of crap you don’t need!”?

  35. h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

    MAC makeup is notorious for this. Every few days I get an email from them offering some type of shipping discount, which of course ends in 24 hours. Their products rarely go on sale but these emails have definitely hit my “need more eyeshadow NOW” button a few times. I haven’t fallen for it yet, but the Venomous Villains line still visits me in my dreams…

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      I could have lived without that stupid, not-cute picture of the holoproencephalic infant monkey, man.

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        holoprosencephalic. Whatever.

        • h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

          I’ve been using this same icon for several years on this site and this is the first time anyone has complained. I *do* think it’s cute, hence why I use it.
          But, uh, sorry?

  36. IGNORE says:

    Whenever I go to a HUGE yard sale I say “I want to buy a HUGE”. TOM

  37. IGNORE says:

    When go to a “HUGE” yard sale I say I want to buy a “HUGE”. TOM

  38. BrazDane says:

    JCPenny is always running discounts on watches and jewelry. It’s always at least 15% off in our local store, and frequently 25% off. Sometimes you can add the discount for opening a store credit card and get up to 40% off.
    All this tells me is that these products were never worth the original price – whatever that might be. Instead I went online and found the right market price for the watch I wanted.
    Funny thing too: I kept an eye on it on Amazon for several weeks and noticed that whenever an Amazon Marketplace seller had a lower price than Amazon, they would always match it within 12-24 hours. And the prices really fluctuated – like from $360 down to $300. I struck when it was $300 and got the free shipping from Amazon.
    Businesses should not be able to get away with these perpetual discounts and I know some European countries really keep an eye on stores so they don’t do this. For the right-wingers that would be those socialist/Marxist/Nazi countries where capitalism is not allowed to run so rampant that it’s considered your own fault for being stupid when some huge corporation without morals or ethics takes you for a ride.

  39. duncanblackthorne says:

    “Get a free gift with your $50 purchase”
    At least 9 times out of 10, it’s something I don’t want, don’t need, already have a better one of, or would rather go buy a better one of than what they’re offering.

    “Limit 5 per person”
    You’re not serious, are you?

    “Our Big Sale ends tomorrow/today/in a few hours”
    If it was that important to me, I’d’ve got it already. *yawn* you’re boring me.

  40. NinjaPanda says:

    My wife worked at a JC Penney’s for a while, and they had some horrible “sales.” The worst was the “Buy one, get one $.99” deals. The thing is, the item is likely perpetually on “sale” at 40-50% of the marked price. So if you only want one, you’re better off getting it when it’s not on “sale.” My mother was constantly falling for these until we told her. Shoe stores I’ve noticed do the same thing, especially Payless.

  41. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I hate when companies offer a free gift, but then I have to pay shipping for the gift, even after I’ve already ordered something. Why not just throw it in the box? It’s not usually something that will add weight.

  42. Ratran says:

    I had a 50% coupon off any regularly priced items. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I handed the coupon to a little old lady. She informs me she only buys items on sale.

    Hello? It is a 50% off coupon!

  43. magnetic says:

    I just can’t resist 2-for-$x.