Over the last decade, charity shops and vintage stores – much like the second-hand products within them - have witnessed a revival. Rifling though racks, pulling items off the rail, bagging the best bargain – it’s ironically a feeling that money can’t buy.
The buzz of a bargain can be exciting; it can be addictive and, similar to other quick release highs, it can also be fleeting. According to behavioural economics, ‘cognitive dissonance’ - the term given to the feelings of uncertainty surrounding your purchase post-payment – may be to blame for this.
Faced with a half-priced item and a competitive shopper waiting in the wings, that purchase can feel like a real steal, leaving you with a warm sense of checkout cheer. However, distanced from the deal, doubts may arise. Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University in North Carolina, explains how physical distance from price comparisons can change our purchasing perspective entirely: “Happiness is often a relative judgment between where we are and where we could have been and when we get a product on a great discount, it is easy to compare our situation (getting the product at a great deal) to the situation of buying it at full price.”
“We feel fantastic about it,” Ariely says of the ‘buzz’. “The problem, of course, is that this relative comparison does not stay in our minds. Once we buy the product, we just use it without thinking about the price and without comparing it to the other potential reality - and then, of course, our happiness is no longer as high.” Cognitive dissonance can mean that that forgotten sheepskin coat becomes forgotten all over again. But still, buyers still seek the bargain ‘buzz’ – and many online retailers are looking to facilitate it.
eBay has long been the place for a deal. Reduced and reused; by listing second hand items, eBay creates the buzz of a charity shop find, without having to actually trawl the shop. There are always new bargains on offer that combat what is known in behavioural economics as ‘hedonic adaption’ - the wane of the good feeling gained from a new purchase - regardless of the price. Hindsight bias also plays its part, with the opinions of others completely changing our feelings post-purchase. You’re told it’s awful? You may never wear it again!
Just like eBay, 1stdibs is an online antiques market. But with 1stdibs, you avoid mediocrity to find the gold; the handy search bar pointing you in exactly the right direction. Offering items that can be hard to locate on the high street, 1stdibs plays on competitive consumption to invite users to have what others cannot, allowing you to revel in their jealousy – at least for the moment.
Facebook auction groups, on the other hand, start the bargaining at rock bottom, emphasising budget rather than rarity. Another example of the 'arms race mentality', the consumer competition is, like eBay, in the auction itself. Bidders are visible and therefore more real, making losing harder to take.
Though each unique, eBay, 1stdibs and Facebook are united in seeking to facilitate the bargain buzz online. With an online click even quicker than a quick charity checkout, it is likely that an increasing number of our online purchases will come with cognitive dissonance and hedonistic adaption thrown in for free. What this does for the overall mood or consumption habits of our society is yet to be defined.
To read more about Dan Ariely: http://danariely.com/
Or to follow him: @danariely
Words: Seth Footring
Photography: Andreas Gursky / Martin Parr