With the holiday shopping season about to come upon us, we thought that now would be an excellent time to help you beef up your knowledge of the tricks that marketers use – both online and offline – to convince you to buy more, more, more. While “tricks” is a strong word and could likely be just as easily replaced with the word “tactics,” the end result is the same. You’re encouraged to buy things you may not even need (or want for that matter) based on the clever idea of a marketer. And yes, we concede that many of these ideas are clever.  Today in the fourth installment of the series, we’re talking specifically about marketing tactics that involve upgrades. You can back up to read about tactics used online, in brick and mortar stores and to capture information with a sign-up or stay tuned for the topic of data collection.

Number One: Electronics Upgrades. The Biggest Culprit of Them All.

It’s probably quite likely that when we mentioned that we were going to be focusing on upgrades in this edition of our marketing tricks cycle, your mind automatically went to the idea of electronics. That’s because electronics are the most prevalent place where upgrade style marketing is used. Ask yourself this before we go any further, do you actually believe in any way that you (or anybody you know) truly needs a new phone every year? The truth is that you don’t, but companies and manufacturers carefully craft upgrade cycles so that you think that you do. It’s no accident that each new iteration of the iPhone includes some “catchy” new feature such as time-lapse photography or panoramic photography. Those are the kinds of changes to a product that consumers take note of and that lead consumers to believe that the newer version is fundamentally better than the version that they’re using. Of course, there typically aren’t significant changes made to the core functionality of your phone, television or any other version of electronics. The truth of the matter is that most electronics will last you for many, many years. If the brand, manufacturer or store wants to make money off of you, they will either need to charge you a much higher price on the initial purchase or convince you to come back frequently to upgrade. It’s unlikely in the price-conscious retail environment that’s currently in play that anybody will want to pay a higher initial price, and most upgrade strategies are more profitable for the company anyway. What’s the cure to being subjected to this marketing ploy? Understand that you really, really don’t need every upgrade and, more importantly, pay attention to point number four below!

Number Two: Fashion Styles and Trends. Upgrades That You Don’t Think Of As Upgrades.

While it’s likely that your mind immediately went to the area of electronics when we mentioned upgrades, it’s equally likely that fashion and makeup didn’t even cross your mind. The truth is, though, that the fashion and beauty industry markets “upgrades” just as aggressively as the electronics industry does. The difference is that instead of a new, improved version of a product, the upgrade in the fashion and beauty industry is the new seasonal look or trend. Think about it. Yes, clothing does have a life expectancy (how many times can you wash something before it just gives in?). But a sweater can last you for years, typically. You don’t actually need a new sweater each autumn or a new coat each winter. The lipstick you’re wearing is actually able to be used until it, gasp, runs out. But the fashion and beauty industry has trained people to believe that they need the “upgrades” to these products. And because you can’t actually improve a sweater or a lipstick, the upgrade is the seasonal on-trend color or style. Is your sweater any less good because it’s sage green instead of cranberry red? No. It’s still a great sweater. You just think you need the “newer” and “better” version because the consumer marketing machine has you sold on the value of trends and styles. What’s the cure to the disease? Be your own brand instead of somebody else’s. And, to do that, pay close attention to point four below!

Number Three: Improvements That Aren’t Improvements. Sometimes Marketers Just Lie.

We don’t want to paint a horrible picture of all marketers. In fact, truth be told, we know some very lovely ones with the best of intentions to honestly represent their products. But there’s also the other side of the coin. As a smart postconsumer, you have to know that just because an item is marketed as an upgraded version, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything about it is substantially better than the original. In this case, the internet can be your friend (yes, this is a paragraph in which we both praised the internet and said that we knew some great marketers)! One of the upsides to the internet is that you can almost always find a robust section of user reviews for just about any product out there as well as Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports write ups. Before you plunk down money on a version of a product that’s touted as an upgrade, be sure to read all of the user reviews of people who purchased that version. Believe it or not, we actually think that Amazon.com is a great place to search for reviews (if your upgraded product is sold there). There are a large number of reviews on it, so many that manufacturers can’t come and post enough of their own to sway the votes. They’re also not reviews that most companies can contest, so you’ll get very honest opinions. But no matter where you choose to research upgraded products, do your analysis first to make sure that the upgrade is truly an upgrade.

Number Four: Associating YOUR Value with the Upgrade. The Ultimate Win of the Consumer Machine.

We’ve been warning you to come and look at point four in this list for almost the entire article, and with good reason. The number one way that marketers and the consumer marketing machine convince you that you need to purchase upgrades is by using societal and peer pressure to make you think that your value as a person is tied to whether or not you have the most recent upgrade version of a product. We don’t have to tell you that this technique represents everything that Postconsumers stands so strongly opposed to. Think about it, though. When you see a commercial for an upgraded version of a product, how often is the commercial about the product versus a commercial that paints an image of a lifestyle. And, of course, it paints an image of a lifestyle that many people aspire to. How many times have you been or seen somebody be judged based on the trendiness of their clothes? The fact that they’re using the previous version of a gaming system? Whether their headphones are the most recent release? And because we live in a society of addictive consumerism, many people take this association between themselves and their “stuff” extremely seriously. Marketers count on that. They use it in their advertising. They use it, essentially, to get you to buy more “stuff.” There’s no way we could cover the relationship between self-esteem and “stuff” adequately in just a portion of an article. And we can’t simply give you a cure to the ill. However, we would encourage you to use all of the resources on Postconsumers.com to begin your journey to finding the satisfaction of enough and knowing that you are more than what you own.

Number Five: A Shout Out to Upsells During Your Shopping Process – Both Online and Offline.

Finally, even though we’ve mentioned them before, we’d be remiss if we signed-off on this article without reminding you to stand diligent against upsell offers when you’re shopping both online and offline. Imagine you go into a store to buy a television. The salesman approaches you and, as he talks to you over the course of time, convinces you that you need a better (and more expensive) version of a television than the one that you originally walked into the store to buy. In retail speak, this is called an upsell and it’s when you move somebody from buying a cheaper product to a more expensive one. It’s also just as easy to accomplish in an online environment as it is in a physical retail store. Online, you can effectively use display and pop-ups and email and user recommendations to convince somebody to buy an upgraded version. How do you avoid falling prey to these? Do your research before you buy and go adblind to anything else. Just go through your purchasing process for what you wanted and do not look left or right. You know what your budget was and what you came to buy.

Marketers don’t mean to be evil. In fact, they’re not. They’re simply people with a job to do using the best tools that they can come up with to do that job. However, we as postconsumers have jobs to do as well. By educating ourselves about these tactics, we can make sure that our decision making is driven by informed and thoughtful choice rather than responses and reactions to marketing tactics.

Did we miss a marketing tactic that involves upgrading something that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Duncan Hull via Flickr