The siren call of bargain-shopaholism

Websites like, and have offered consumers access to flash deals that must be purchased without much time to mull over their usefulness. And now we're all addicted to bargains.

The Boston Globe reports that "flash sales" are attractive to both stores and consumers because they enable people to buy crap that they might need and they gives stores the opportunity to force consumers to make decisions quickly, before they realize that most of the stuff they'd buy from flash sales is actually crap that they don't need.

I too have been tempted by these flash-sales. Every day, I check out the deals available on Ideel, Hautelook, and These sites, also known as private-sale sites, bill themselves as offering exclusive deals to members, but really anyone can be a member just by signing up. Their business model is simple: the sites buy mostly overstocked clothing and accessories from brand-name designers, then discount them deeply. Adrenaline-pumped shoppers rush to get the deals because the items are often gone in a few hours. Madison Riley, a retail analyst with Kurt Salmon Associates, said flash sales tap into consumers’ psyches in several key ways: the joy of treasure hunting, the desire for impulse shopping, the love of the deal, and the fear of missing out.

The sites try to recreate the rush of a warehouse sample sale, minus the trampling and shoving, but they borrow as much from the Home Shopping Network as they do from Saks Fifth Avenue. After shoppers add an item to their cart at Gilt, for example, they get a 10-minute countdown before they lose the item.

More mainstream retailers are also adopting the idea. Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, has held 24-hour half-price sales on brands like Hervé Léger. And recently J Crew created a site for their warehouse division, offering items to consumers on weekends only.

Items with a countdown clock certainly put on the pressure to buy. There's the not-so subtle message that YOU MAY NEVER SEE SUCH A GREAT DEAL AGAIN. Joe's Jeans at less that $100 a pair is a once in a lifetime opportunity, people. Do you really, really want to turn down such a bargain? Some kind of brain mania washes over you, leading you to believe that yes, you NEED those jeans and you NEED to save $100 and thus you NEED to buy them oh my God hurry before the time runs out.

Then you buy those jeans, and immediately realize what a stupid decision that was because hello, you already have twenty pairs of jeans in your closet, but by now it's too late. You've fallen victim to the manipulation these sites are so adept in. There's no second guessing, because all of these flash-sale sites have a no-return policy. All sales are final.

The concept of these sites seems tailored to our post-recessionary times. Any guilt that people might feel after spending hundreds of dollars on unnecessary items is assuaged by the knowledge they've gotten a great deal, and thus bragging rights for finding such a killer bargain, like a $4,500 diamond necklace that was recently on sale for $2,250 at Gilt.

According to the article, the best way to treat bargainaholism is to simply, painfully, click way through to the "unsubscribe" page on these flash-sale websites. That is, if you can resist the siren call of discounted jeans.

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