Smarter Shopper: The Seasonality Heuristic.

This is the first installment in my Smarter Shopping series, unlocking the consumer science behind the ways companies try to part you with your money! Today we’re talking about Seasonality and how companies use it to motivate us to purchase. 

I’ve posted the introduction below, and if you’re interested in reading further, please click the link at the bottom to take you to the full text on Medium.

How many times have you heard?

“[Insert holiday] is a commercial scam invented by corporations to get you to spend money.”

sighed deeply and rolled your eyes at how obnoxious the speaker was? Oh that many? Well, turns out that super annoying hipster grinch was right! If you’re the grinch in question, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet, it isn’t some big scammy conspiracy, it’s just science. Consumer Science.

Not convinced? Well it helps if we think of the bulk of occasion shopping as belonging to two types of Seasons, Natural and Institutional (Butler, 2001).

Natural Seasonality occurs due to climate events that are largely out of human control. While we can prepare and anticipate we can do little to make them happen or not happen. During colder months, we buy thicker jackets and strong boots, during the warmer months we start to buy sunglasses and sunscreen (seriously, everyone should be wearing sunscreen). These purchases are motivated by natural seasonality out of our immediate control.

Institutional Seasonality is completely different in that humanity has direct control over it as it’s comprised of religious, ethnic and social events that each country celebrates in its own way. For example, depending on where you are in Europe, you open Christmas presents on the 24th or the 25th of December! As it is an entirely human construct, Institutional Seasonality is said to be more powerful tool for influencing consumer behaviour because we make it up! How many ‘silly’ holidays have you engaged with in some way? National Talk Like a Pirate Day! Cheese Day! National Cookie Day! Now think of how many have influenced your purchasing habits? 

Three ways companies get you to spend money using seasonality are:

  1. Making it easy for you to spend money you want to spend.
  2. Reminding you that giving gifts to people makes you a nice person.
  3. Making you feel like the time to spend is now.

Curious to find out how?

Read more on Medium <

6 Comments Add yours

  1. A River Lily says:

    Great post. I consider myself pretty lucky to not give a f—I mean, live in a climate where we have, like, one literal season. (At least that most can perceive. I am no meteorologist.) But I’m mostly a victim of the second way: being reminded that it’s nice to give gifts to people. To be honest, though, sometimes I actually need a reminder! I tend to be pretty introverted, and I had a blast this past holiday season because I had an excuse to give forward to a lot of people who’ve helped me over the years. Of course, it could also just be a matter of social codes making it unusual to give gifts “just because” at any other time of the year. Sigh. Lots of stuff going on.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble! This is topic is really, really interesting to me, and it’s so great to hear from a consumer psychologist. I grew up as that insufferable hipster you mentioned, and I’m trying to compromise between being nicer/more generous and not being swayed by companies. I think I’ve found that balance between taking advantage of seasonal sales (and recognizing when it IS a sale, not just a hyped-up regular price and whatnot) and buying only when I really need to. Really, you’re right; it comes down to what you said: Making it work for you!


    1. adoredee says:

      I love those man-made holidays too! I think it’s nice that at least one day a year you’re reminded to be awesome to the people in your lives, where it gets complicated is when you feel obligated to give a gift because that’s what you’re supposed to. In those times you have to really stop and think, is this something I want, something the recipient wants? Or am I just doing it because that’s expected?

      Ha! I too was that person, but I think now that seasonality has it’s place. It’s great that during winter the thick wooly socks are in an easy to grab location, and it’s nice to have Valentine’s day as a day for love, but I do not need to bankrupt myself to enjoy either of them. I don’t need to buy a new coat every year, or spend an obscene amount of money on mr. for him to know I care for him.

      I’m really glad you enjoyed it, I’m hoping to write one of these a month. The next one I’m working on is about emotions and shopping 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Institutional seasonality is great for everything reliably being discounted after X holiday. 🤑 –Angela

    Liked by 1 person

    1. adoredee says:

      Happy Day after Valentine’s Day! Here have some chocolates and flowers, 70% off!


      1. 😈 Yessss…come to mama.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sophie says:

    Very interesting post! It’s fascinating to read how as special snowflakes we are part of the snowflake herd!
    Good positive message as well, without too much grinching on how shops take advantage of us. Would be interesting to see how this relates to beauty trends as well, such as pastels in Spring/Summer compared to darker colours in Autumn/Winter. When these aren’t the same necessities as woolen socks and warm coats are.

    I guess its the age old question, what comes first the demand or the marketing!


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