Like many of us, I am a frequent online purchaser and in these difficult times, my use of internet shopping has increased. I don’t particularly enjoy shops and, where I can, I like the idea of stabbing the keys on my keyboard, ticking the PayPal box or confirming my details with Amazon and waiting for the doorbell to ring heralding the arrival of my purchases.
There is, I have discovered, a downside to all of this. In the course of buying, all of us give information about ourselves, our contact details and our bank to the sellers. Not only that but the sellers are always busy compiling data on you, your purchases and apparent retail preferences. When we buy or even enquire about a possible purchase, the potential retailer harvests our information and uses it to try to tempt us with similar goodies at a later time. But recently, I have noticed a new, unsolicited annoyance. Having searched the website of one large retailer of household goods for some pillows and another for some outdoor clothing in which they specialise, I received emails from both. One was headed: “Your final chance to get your pink flamingo” and the other offered me a rather tacky holdall in return for an order above a certain sum. The flamingo offer, on investigation (couldn’t help myself – better judgement jettisoned and replaced with overwhelming curiosity) turned out to be a large inflatable pink flamingo of the sort you might, if good taste were not important to you, take to a swimming pool. Honestly, I am not making this up! What you had to do was order a piece of furniture or other household item and your new sofa would arrive together with said blow-up bird. If I had bought, say, a waterproof coat from the other retailer, I would have been given a small, cheap, plastic holdall with the retailer’s name prominently displayed so that any foray out with the bag would have me as a walking advertisement for the trader. No thanks on both counts.
Nevertheless, these offers got me thinking about negotiating and value. I have never in my life felt the need for an inflatable flamingo and I rather take pride in owning nice luggage so I could see no appeal in the holdall either. Why then did these purveyors of relatively expensive items think that the offer of cheap, tacky giveaways would encourage me or people like me to buy from them? I suppose that they must place a value on their freebies and so assume that we would be so grateful to have such an object that we, their customers, would be persuaded to buy now instead of later. Or perhaps buy from them instead of a competitor. In reality, I know that I should have made contact with them both and said: “Thanks for the opportunity, but if you are going to offer me a reward for buying from you, I would prefer pillowcases to go with my pillows or a pair of socks to go with my waterproof jacket”. I am not sure if I would have received a reply. Alternatively, I could have bought the pillowcases and the jacket and kept the free items but not used them (as I have said, I have no use for either). Then when I next ordered from them, I could have said: “I have here a fine and unused flamingo/holdall and would be willing to send it back to you if you can let me have along with my new purchase a pillowcase (or some socks)”.
Now, I hear you saying, Bannister has lost his marbles. No one would fall for that. But they can and they do. In a negotiation, you may get offered a concession you neither anticipate nor want. The message is: don’t ignore it and certainly don’t reject it, whoever is offering it attaches a value to it – can you enrich your position by exchanging it for something you do value or by accepting it to trade back at a later stage or even on another day? Everything offered has a value which may not be the same for you as it is for them: try an exchange for something you might value more. I think I am going to call it the Inflatable Flamingo Gambit and include it in the Scotwork negotiation course notes!
My final piece of news is that the clothing seller, presumably having unloaded all their logo-stamped holdalls on an unsuspecting clientele, are now offering two coffee mugs decorated with William Morris patterns if you buy from them. Where do they get this stuff??