We know that companies have all kinds of ways to trick you into thinking you need to buy something, but one of the more obnoxious techniques is the "illusion of demand". As BBC Future points out, this illusion makes it seem like you're missing out on something even when you're not.
Picture: Joshua Ganderson
The illusion of demand works in all kinds of ways, but a classic example is old infomercials that would say something like, "if operators are busy, please call again". This capitalises on the idea that we tend to look to others to inform our own decisions. If something is scarce or people are lining up to buy it, that means it's probably good. BBC Future points to one experiment that shows how this works:
In another set of experiments, Burger and his colleague David Caldwell demonstrated that people are more likely to act if they perceive they have a unique opportunity to do so. In one study, for example, participants spent time evaluating products that are typically sold on US college campuses, including an insulated travel mug. Afterwards, with the study apparently over, the researchers mentioned to the participants that the mugs were actually on sale at a reduced price. Some of the participants were simply encouraged to hand over money — but others were told that the mugs were in short supply and that they could only buy one if they drew a qualifying ticket from a hat. In reality, all of the tickets were marked with a symbol that qualified the participants to buy a mug. Sure enough, the 'lottery' participants were more likely to offer to buy a mug.
It's a pretty common technique for sales, especially during tech launches where supply is limited and people are scrambling to buy new gadgets as close to release as possible. It's a simple manipulation tactic you can counter by just taking a few extra minutes to think about whether you actually want to buy something or if you're only interested because everyone else is.
The subtle science of selling - a six-step guide [BBC Future]