Beware The Door Buster
I was waiting in line down at this new electronics shop last weekend. They had this massive grand opening, and they were going to give away this really cool flat screen TV along with a home theater system. They said they’d give out free raffle tickets to the first five hundred people that showed up, and then they’d draw later on in the afternoon to see who won. The catch, of course, was you had to be there to claim your prize. And since they gave out the free raffle tickets at eight o clock in the morning, they were assured that five hundred people would not only likely buy something that morning, but make plans to come back later. Marketing plans like this are fairly obvious. Give somebody a gimmick to get them in the door, and then do your best to up sell them while they are there.
Car dealerships are notorious for doing this. They’ll run an add in the paper for a certain make and model for a ridiculously low price. Of course they’ll say in the small print that there is only one particular car at that price, you can tell as they list the VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number of the car in question. Sometimes they’ll have three or four at that price. People see the ad, and mistakenly believe (to the hopes of the dealer) that all of the cars are at that price.
Then when they show up, they’re told they all sold out. When that happens, the dealership has two powerful tools of influence naturally working in their favor.
The first is something called “Commitment and Consistency,” as pointed out in the often referenced “Influence, Science and Practice,” by Robert Cialdini. When people make a public commitment, they are much easier to be persuaded to do something that is along the lines of that commitment. Political campaigners know this. When they phone people the week before an election and ask them if they are going go out and vote, most people naturally say yes. Since they’ve made a public commitment, even to a complete stranger over the phone, they are much more likely to vote than the average citizen who hasnâ€™t made such a commitment.
By going to the car dealership in search of a good deal on a car, you make a certain commitment. It’s not like the car salesman pulled you in cold off the street.
Another powerful factor they have working for them in this case is social proof. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, we humans are pack animals and are extremely susceptible to crowd behavior. We love to follow fashions, stick to the status quo (unless you are a singing basketball player), and follow the crowd. So when you show up, and the car you wanted is “all sold out (all one of them),” it gives the impression that many people are after the same car, which makes it more desirable.
So by putting those cheesy ads in the paper, and getting you to make a trip to the dealership, just by showing up you have two powerful forces of social influence guiding you to buy a new car.
It’s no wonder that stores use the same tactics. They work, and they work beautifully. Stores use them so much because they work so well. All those incredibly insane “door busters” that you see the day after Thanksgiving, or black Friday, are carefully designed instruments of social manipulation. In case you are unaware, the reason it’s called “Black Friday” is in reference to the black ink bookkeepers use when they are making a profit. In this case black is very good.
To make matters worse, sometime they’ll have free giveaways, but the “winner” is actually a ringer. A plant that works for the store. Even though this is clearly immoral and unethical, it’s pretty hard to uncover and prosecute. The only danger lies in a store being found out, and it’s business getting a bad reputation. Even when people have a suspicion that the winner may indeed be a “ringer,” they still line up, “just in case.” We humans can be terribly easy to manipulate sometimes.
If you can figure out a way to get the free stuff, without giving in to the temptation to buy whatever they convincing you to buy through their masterful social engineering, so much the better.
One thing I usually do in a case like the free TV giveaway is only take five dollars with me, and leave all my credit cards at home. That way even I’m persuaded by the slickest of salesman, I won’t be able to buy anything. Hopefully by the time I race home to get my credit card, I’ll stop and wonder if I really do need that beef jerky machine. It’s not like I eat beef jerky every day, or even once a week. Why in the world do I need to cook the stuff?
So as I was standing there in line, looking at all the awesome electronic gadgets that I would surely buy if I were rich enough, I started talking to the guy behind me. He was involved in several MLMs and told me places like this were a great opportunity spread his business. People were surrounded by all this stuff that they wished they had enough money to buy, so naturally they would be open to opportunities to make more money, at least in principle. This guy said that he had great success recruiting people for his “downline,” at these “free” offerings. He scans the paper every week, and goes to as many as these as possible. He said the best time is right before the actual drawing, when people’s interests are the highest.
He said he was kind of “piggybacking” on the social manipulation of the business. He would show up in the morning, talk to a few people in line, and not mention anything about his business. Then he would come back that afternoon, strike up a conversation again with the people he already met, like he was an old friend. Then while the excitement and expectation was high, he would slowly ease the conversation into his well-crafted sales pitch.
He said that if he only gets one person per “giveaway,” then it is well worth his while, because in the long run, each person that joins his “downline” is worth potentially thousands of dollars, if not more.
And, of course, I didn’t win the TV, and I bought this cool little vacuum cleaner for my keyboard, that plugs into my USB port. And a new computer mouse, because my old one, was, kind of, you know, needed replacing. Or something.