The chairman of Saks, Stephen Sadova, said that Saks had shifted from "defense to offense", adding,
"A year and a half, two years ago, people were asking 'Is luxury dead?', 'Will people ever pay full price again?' What we've learned this last year, certainly this last quarter, is that they're paying full price, they're responding to the concept of scarcity, and they love brands."
The creation of perceived scarcity is a time-honoured persuasive device. But is anything sold be a major retailer truly scarce? Only if you buy into the idea that this season's It Bag will never grace the planet again. Merchants have a bag of tricks to crate the illusion of scarcity: time-limited sales and promotions, of with the silliest are the invitation-only shopping sites with their shopping carts that empty if you do not buy within minutes.
Twinning scarcity with exclusivity is catnip to anyone who needs a shot of artificial esteem. Wait lists, pre-orders or offers to preferred customers, same thing. Display tactics such as putting only one of an item on the floor work spectacularly, and staff are trained to never let on there is backstock: it's the only one in your size!
I too am vulnerable to the illusion of scarcity, especially in these situations:
1. The rare, artisanal "find"
If I find something made by an artisan, am told it is one of a kind, and, if there is a sweetener like a percentage of the profit donated to a cause I support, I'm a goner. That's how I ended up with a crate of pottery, or last week, a lovely but not strictly needed silk scarf made by an Indian women's cooperative.
2. I'm Here, It's Here
When traveling, especially at the end of the trip, I am afflicted with angst that I will likely not stroll this souk, troll this boutique again.
Hello Balinese bags, Monoprix bangles and aruveydic toothpaste crammed into drawers, where they surface years later. "They'll make great gifts", I sometimes rationalize, but then forget or they're not right for the person.
3. What You Resist, Persists
Am I the only one who has proclaimed a shopping moratorium only to blow it spectacularly?
Similar to the the Go-On-a-Diet-Gain-Weight phenomenon, this is a well-known psychological response to deprivation. We don't like it very much when deprivation is done to us, and when we do it to ourselves, our little reptilian brain hisses, "Fix this now!"
"Couldn't help myself"? I can, and sometimes don't. In my case this means pearls.
Homeopathic consumption may help: instead of a dress, buy a lipstick. A friend of mine in AA says that when the urge to consume hits, they were advised to go to a thrift store with $20, no cards. (Part of the recovery process concerns making wise choices, but at the same time learning to enjoy pleasures not inherently harmful.)
But you are still spending, and if suckered by the scarcity lure, likely buying what you don't need. Retailers want you to spend habitually, so that $20 softens you up to keep going.
As for Saks, I understand the strategy; like many retailers, they're in survival mode. But I find it offensive to be manipulated by an illusion. The quote struck me as crass, with an undercurrent of contempt for the customer.
If the economy rebounds, with stores like theirs successfully stoking our luxury lust, I'll miss seeing the 'shop your closet' concept fade. But given last weeks' market volatility, maybe that wise idea has some legs.