Beware the Shopping Shoulds!

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One of the traps it’s easy to fall into as a shopper is to buy something because you think you should. This basically means that your rational mind alone believes you need the item.

It’s fine to have a rational basis for wanting to buy something, but your intuition also needs to be involved in the decision-making process.

It’s amazing how many things some of us buy that we think we truly need, then don’t end up using.

The functions of some of these items can be carried out simply by repurposing. The crafty–frugal movement has lots of great information about this.

The Shopping Shoulds crop up in all kinds of situations, some of which are detailed in my forthcoming book, The Inspired Shopper. One scenario that can give rise to the Shopping Should is when you receive a gift voucher or money as a present.

Recognising the Shopping Shoulds

When you receive a gift voucher or cash as a birthday or Christmas present, three things can happen. Entirely new needs can present themselves (pun intended); you may already have a specific item that you’ve had your eye on for ages; or you may have a general idea of an item but not have the specifics worked out.

In any of these scenarios, you may experience the urge to spend the money quickly – both to let the giver know that you bought something worthwhile, and, if you received money, to ensure you don’t simply fritter it away on petrol and groceries.

If you have a specific item that you’d already chosen before receiving the gift, that’s great. You already knew that you wanted and needed the item, and now, with the help of your gift voucher or money, you can ‘claim’ it. As you’re buying it, you still need to check in with your intuition to ensure it’s right.

But if you only have a general idea of the kind of item you want, it’s especially important to proceed with caution. Remember, there’s no hurry. Don’t fall into the trap of buying something before you’re really ready.

Tips for avoiding the Shoppng Shoulds

• Try to let go of your desire to have the item right away.

• Don't conduct bricks-and-mortar searches just for the one item. For example, avoid going to a mall to look for that item alone. Wait until your unconscious mind prompts you, and visit a shopping centre when you’re on the lookout for more than one thing.

• If you’re browsing on the internet, keep telling yourself that you’re just looking – despite the convenience of buying something right away, there’s no need to rush things.

• As you look around, refine the sense of what you’re looking for – the colour, texture and so on. Think about your lifestyle, and what functions the item needs to have in order to enhance it.

• While you’re going through this process, think about whether or not you really need the item. Could an existing item be repurposed?

• Only buy the item when you receive a gentle nudge from your intuitive self. In the case of money you receive as a gift, remember, it’s now yours – if you want to spend it on something practical, that’s fine.

Bear in mind that wherever safety or risk is an issue, this advice doesn’t apply. Always err on the side of caution, for example if you’re planning to take a trip up the Amazon River(!) or buying a product for a baby or child that needs to meet particular safety standards (especially if you’re buying secondhand).

More on how to avoid the Shopping Shoulds can be found in my forthcoming book The Inspired Shopper, which is out soon as a Kindle ebook!
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Do Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

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I recently heard on Radio National's breakfast program that some Australian retailers were considering charging a
'try-on' fee to customers who went to their stores to try the goods on in preparation for buying them at a reduced price on overseas websites. The fee would be refundable if the customer bought the stock.

I have mixed feelings about this shopping behaviour. On the one hand it seems to take unfair advantage of the retailer. On the other hand, human beings are blessed with ingenuity and initiative; we'll naturally seek the cheapest and most convenient way to achieve a particular goal.

As well, Australian retailers have generally lagged behind the world when it comes to online stores; retailers have been warned for years that unless they offer customers a 'bricks and clicks' experience - a combination of bricks-and-mortar and online retail - they'll ultimately be doomed. And recently, following the retailers' complaints about the lack of a sales tax in Australia for online purchases under $1000, they've been accused of price gouging.

When I heard the story, though, I had some sympathy for the retailer concerned. If you go into a fashion store and try something on, you don't have to engage the sales staff and take up their time. But this guy sold sports footwear, so his staff were getting tied up helping customers who never had the slightest intention of buying at the store. He also referred to a retailer of ski gear whose staff were helping people fit ski shoes that they were only trying on for size - a time-consuming exercise, given how specialised this kind of footwear is.

So as a consumer, should you try something out in a traditional store if you fully intend to buy it online? Is it unethical? Here's my suggestion: if you want to use bricks-and-mortar stores to try something on that you'll then buy online, don't do it if it's going to take up staff time (unless the store offers both bricks and clicks, ie they combine online and traditional retail).

If you want to buy something online that you will need help with to try on, bad luck. Take your chances on the internet, and use both your rational mind and your intuition to decide on the right size. Check out the returns policy of online stores before you buy from them so that if a size isn't right you can easily return it.

There is another option. If you enjoy the ambience and service of traditional retail stores, consider haggling once you've decided to buy something. Tell the sales assistant about a lower price you've found on the web, or using a smartphone, and haggle away. In a competitive market, what's wrong with trying to obtain a cheaper price?

What do you think about my suggestions? What's your approach to trying things on that you intend to buy online?
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