Compulsive price disclosure

[21 March 2006]

By Rob Horning

As goods become cheaper and more disposable, we tend to be overwhelmed with our stuff while taking less pleasure in owning it. We become less attached to possessions despite having so many more of them. We begin to value getting rid of things more than getting things; or rather we become wrapped up in our oscillation between those two modes. This article from the Guardian examines the ramifications of failing prices in an environment of rising demand. Hoarding, according to a marketing consultant the article cites, is not a sign of attachment to goods but a sign of their getting dated without our feeling comfortable throwing them away. The advent of eBay makes us all believe that our trash is someone else’s godsend. The result? A confusion of personal use value with theoretical exchange value which muddies the whole notion of value altogether, leading us to experience less pleasure overall.

Also, the article notes the lack of space to store all the junk we feel compelled to buy because it is so cheap. But I most appreciated this:

Factory outlets, like the low-cost airlines that started up in Britain in the mid-1990s, taught people that the price of goods was not written in stone but subject to context and, in particular, the balance of power between seller and buyer. “There is no guilt any more at being brutal about seeking the best price,” says Coombs. Instead of guilt, there is pleasure. As well as the money people save by finding bargains, Coombs and other analysts talk about the satisfaction felt by consumers when they “get a victory” over a retailer - and when they tell their friends about it afterwards. The latter activity, in a sure sign of its popularity, has recently acquired a would-be scientific label: “compulsive price disclosure”.

We always called this “scoreboard,” after the mantra of sports talk-show host Jim Rome, but it’s nice to know that it has a more official name.

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