Selling in a World That Lacks Urgency

The pandemic lockdown has given shoppers a newfound patience. This threatens to undo two centuries of selling strategies that are based on urgency.

Urgency has been one of the cornerstones of sales culture since the early 1800s. The goal is to persuade customers to buy today instead of postponing until tomorrow. The most familiar device to create urgency is a sale, a temporary price reduction with a clearly stated deadline.

These artificial deadlines are easily ignored by consumers who have learned patience, and the pandemic lockdown has been a hard lesson in patience for many shoppers. We got used to the idea of getting what we were asking for in a few days, or the same day if we could find out what store to go to. Then the lockdown changed that.

Placing a routine order online, then waiting six to ten weeks for it to arrive, can be frustrating if you were expecting a wait of a few days. But having gone through this cycle a few times, almost every shopper has seen for themselves that for most products, there is not much lost in the wait.

The sad truth, often, is that we are all so busy that when the product finally arrives two months late, we are just about ready for it.

Patience, once learned, cannot easily be unlearned.

At the same time, shoppers have become more savvy about logistics, and this is helping them understand how manipulative sales have become. Online sales have no connection to the end-of-season department store sales in which the sales floor must be cleared to make room for the next season’s merchandise. The online sales are purely a device to get attention. This is never more obvious than when the retailer is still taking orders for the sale item after the world’s entire stock of the product has been depleted, so that new orders will ship out only after the factory makes more.

When you learn that you are being manipulated, there is always some resistance.

If a sale and its artificial urgency is a selling strategy, patience offers its own counter-strategies. The most basic of these, well explained in economic game theory, is the strategy of waiting for a sale. The shopper selects a $100 product, but to purchase only when the price falls to $55 or less. When sales are so frequent that any shopper can find hundreds of them every day, this strategy works better than it would seem.

Beyond waiting for a sale, there is the more powerful strategy of waiting to see whether the product is actually needed. Usually it turns out it isn’t. To the shopper who can avoid a purchase entirely, that is the ultimate discount.

Sellers will learn the new strategies for selling to the newly patient shoppers. Part of this has to include patience on the sellers’ part. Instead of writing a plan that says that 10,000 units will be sold in 5 days, the seller may be forced to concede that it cannot always control how quickly a product will move.

Fish Nation Information Station | Rick Aster’s World | Rick Aster