When availability goes down, attractiveness goes up

Whenever I go to the supermarket and am not sure what kind of wine I should buy, I directly buy the brand which has the fewest remaining bottles. This probably happens every time I don’t clearly decide beforehand what I am going to buy, and still happen sometimes even if I do. Why is that? Many studies have been made on the reason behind this, and one of them has been done on Purdue University undergraduates.

The study was reported by Robert B. Cialdini in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. The students in the study were shown some advertisement for a novel. For half of the students, the advertising copy included the statement “a book for adults only, restricted to those 21 years and over”. The other half of the students read about no such age restriction on the book. When the researcher later asked the students to indicate their feelings towards the book, those who learned of the age restriction (1) wanted to read the book more, (2) believed that they would like the book more than did those who thought their access to the book was unlimited.

What this study shows us is that by curiosity, or to find a shortcut for our decision-making process, we tend to want what we cannot easily get or what is limited. Like any curious beings, the students in this study would like to know what is restricted to them and, as a result, to convince themselves that they really want that book, they try to persuade themselves that the book is good and they would like it. It is the same book in both advertisements but the power of that one sentence, "a book for adults only…” sufficed to make the book more valuable to those who saw it.

By now, you might start wondering whether people have used this technique to get you to do something you would not do in normal conditions. I am almost sure they have. It is a great marketing tactic to only display just a few of the items one has for sale, and replace them as they are being bought. People are trained to do that. Knowing that this particular shirt is selling fast, we become afraid that we might not be able to possess it. It then automatically becomes more attractive and, sometimes, we go up to borrowing money to buy that shirt.

For the last six months, I have seen a limited edition of chocolate invariable every week in a supermarket in my neighborhood. I buy this chocolate every time I go there until I realize this limited edition is limitless. This behavioral pattern was also present in my relationship with people. I would interrupt a meaningful conversation with a friend to talk to a stranger passing by or someone calling fearing that I might miss the stranger’s information. The friend is already a friend, and he/she is here but the stranger is just passing, therefore having some small talk with him/her becomes more attractive than my previous ongoing conversation.

Another story relayed by Dr. Cialdini that retained my attention is one of a salesperson and two customers at an appliance store. Long story short, once the two customers (a couple) show some interest in an item (by looking at it longer than usual or checking the instruction manual…) the salesperson approached them and said: “I see you are interested in this item and I understand why. It is a great product at a great price. But, unfortunately, I sold it to another customer twenty minutes ago. And, if I am not mistaken, it was the last one we had.” Suddenly, the attractiveness of the appliance jumped and the couple wanted this item more than ever. Then the conversation continued as follows: Couple: “Is there any chance that there is still an unsold one at the store?” Salesperson: “Although narrow, it is possible, and I’d be willing to help you check that. But is this really the model you want and will you take it at this price if I get it?” Couple: "Sure"

Et voila! The sale is secured. The salesperson, of course, will return with the item. Its availability might make it less attractive than it was seconds before, but the salesperson already made the sacrifice to go check for the item, and the customer has already given their words that they would buy it.

Have you ever gone somewhere you don’t particularly like because you have had a rare invitation, or because it will be locked soon? Have you ever bought something useless just because you were at the only place you can find it? You know once you leave that place, you might never have that opportunity again. Have you ever done something you know was bad because, at that particular moment, no one was watching? Most (if not all) of us will answer yes to, at least, one of these questions. But understanding that this is a psychological trick that others might use to manipulate you, will help in the future by preventing you from doing what you don’t want to do.

It also has some advantages. Knowing you don’t have much time will encourage you to spend it wisely. Knowing your loved ones will leave someday will force you to cherish them more. Knowing you will die soon will trigger the desire to enjoy life.

       The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost. 
        -- G. K. Chestertonx


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