Buddhism and Consumerism
Talk by Thubten Chodron
- Part 1 [20 min]:
- Part 2 [19 min]:
- Question 1 [5 min]:
- Question 2 [6 min]:
Robert Roy Britt (LiveScience.com Managing Editor) July 21, 2008
As shoppers, we do crazy things. Retailers bank on it.
Several studies reveal how Americans shop in irrational ways, and increasingly scientists are figuring out how easily we can be duped.
One new study finds that happiness with a purchase depends on the choices that were available on a store shelf and how the items were presented. Study participants were presented products ranging from cordless phones to lawn mowers -- presented in three ways:
- One choice was clearly superior to the other two (dominance)
- One choice was intermediate to the other two (compromise)
- Two options that were somewhat equivalent (control)
A study last year by a separate group, published in the same journal, reached a similar conclusion. Study participants were presented with two sofas. Sofa A was softer, but Sofa B was more durable. Sofa A was preferred by the minority - 42.3% of the participants. Then both sofas were presented with three other sofas that had very low softness ratings. Preference for sofa A jumped to 77.4%.
Tricks of the trade
There are many ways retailers encourage you to open your wallet. None is more obvious than putting things on sale. Researchers have known empirically for more than 20 years a "50% off" sign leads consumers to assume a price is attractive, even if they have no knowledge of the original price or reasonable prices for that product.
In fact, shoppers as a whole seem quite clueless about sales values. Studies have also shown that frequent but modest discounts -- such as the constant sales at a car dealership - lead to perceptions of greater value than less frequent but deeper discounts.
Environmental-friendly consumerism? World Resources Institute
Other tricks, such as this one documented in a study last year, are more subtle: A salesperson can totally alter a window shopper's inclination to buy something by simply asking the right question. When a salesperson asks a shopper which of several items she prefers, the shopper tends to skip the whole "Should I buy it at all?" question and go straight to the "Which one should I buy?" phase. The study was done in simulated tests and in real-world retail situations.
"Stating a preference appears to induce a which-to-buy mindset, leading people to think about which of several products they would like to buy under the implicit assumption they have already decided to buy one of them," wrote Alison Jing Xu and Robert S. Wyer, Jr. of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "Consequently, they are more disposed to make a purchase than they otherwise would be."
Any good salesperson knows that if you really want to sell something, you just need to know what the customer wants. Another study by Simonson, the Stanford researcher, with Ran Kivetz of Columbia University, focused on loyalty programs, in which a consumer joins to gain discounts or some other rewards but is required to make a certain number of purchases.
People who liked sushi were offered one program that required them to buy 10 sandwiches, and another program with equal rewards that required them to buy 10 sandwiches and 10 orders of sushi. The study subjects were more likely to join the second program, even though it offered no additional benefit and required them to buy more. The study "shows that people put too much emphasis on things that seem to fit them better than others, often leading to irrational choices," Simonson told LiveScience.
Thubten Chodron teaching at Dharma Friendship Foundation, Seattle
- More by Thubten Chodron: Taming the Mind (Snowlion, 2004)