Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Woot! Revisited

These USB rotating beacons might be useful for something. I am just not sure what, at the moment.....

NOTE: Shortly after I wrote this, Woot! was sold to Amazon.  Figures.  A decade later, I have yet to buy anything on Woot!  I suppose those beacons would have been good for my golf cart, or if I decided to start a snow-plow business.  Other than that, nothing.

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I have been stalking Woot! for a month or so now, and while I have yet to see anything I would want to buy, it is has been a fascinating look at the way retailing works on the Internet and in "real life".

So far, the only item they have sold that even might interest me was a Cuisinart paninni maker which was interesting in that I had bought one retail many years ago, and they were selling "refurbished" units for half-price. If they worked properly, it was not a bad deal. If, that is, you needed a panninni maker. I already have one.

And that's where it gets interesting. People buy from the site regularly and call themselves "Wooters". The log in every day and comment on the items for sale and/or buy them. It is a culture of consumerism, frankly.

And the website caters to this hard-core group, of course. Recently, they auctioned off a pair of Woot! rotating beacons, which run off a USB port. Why you would need these, I do not know, unless you are cubicle-bound and felt they would impress the guy in the next cubicle. They sold them cheap enough - enough to make me believe it was a loss-leader. But if something has no real function or use, is it really a "bargain"?

Coupled with this purchase was a bag of unknown stuff, given only to certain people, whose order number matched the Dow Jones average or some such nonsense. In other words, it was a grab-bag kind of deal.

Grab-bags have been around for ages, along with punch-boards, and other forms of primitive gambling. You give someone money, they give you a "mystery bag" or box or whatever. Maybe it is a gold ring inside, or a child's toy, or just some candy. You never know. And of course, as with most of these forms of primitive gambling, it is sort of a cheap rip-off. You never lose very much money on these deals, but you usually lose. And even if you "win", if the stuff you won is not something you needed or wanted, you actually lose.

So you just lose, actually.

Buying a grab-bag is not making a purchase. It is mere shopping - buying for the sake of buying things - buying stuff in the hope that it will make you happy or complete. Shopping is characterized by your purchasing an item based on it being presented to you, not your searching out an item you need and then negotiating a price.

And in that regard, Woot! is pure shopping. They present to you, an item at a price. Usually, the price is merely "OK" and the item is returned, refurbished, or otherwise surplus. Unless the incredible coincidence occurs that they present to you, an item that you have been looking for at that very moment, at a competitive price (and you don't mind having a refurbished item), then you are merely shopping, and chances are, buying something you don't really need or want.

You are buying for the experience of buying, not to make a strategic purchase.

And it is a brilliant marketing strategy, frankly.

Folding in traditional mall shopping with the online experience of a chat room, message board, facebook, or twitter, they create a virtual online community to reinforce the buying behavior. People are herd animals and will do what the herd says to do. And as a result, people visiting the site, who get drawn into the artificially created "community" will end up buying.

Yes, shilling on Woot! Does it happen? Well, ask yourself this, why wouldn't you shill the site? By this, I mean putting up postings from "users" who are actually employees or associates, saying nice things about the products offered.

But even if they don't shill their own site, there are people in this world who will unwittingly shill for you. On every discussion board, there are people who will parrot advertising pitches for products. Think about it - how many people walk around with product names emblazoned on their clothing or even tatoo'ed on their bodies? I'd be willing to bet there is some jerk out there with Woot! tatooe'd on his forehead by now.

So even without shilling, social network sites like this (and that is what it is, Facebook and home-shopping, together on one site!) will tend to produce a Greek chorus of normative cues, praising the products and the site.

And I am not picking on Woot! either. eBay has a similar effect, as people become addicted to surfing the site, looking for things they think they want, but really don't. They "shop" and buy stuff, for the thrill of purchasing. Even Craigslist is this way, and if you've tried to sell things on Craigslist, you know what I am talking about.

On both eBay and Craigslist, you get the chronic shoppers, who pepper you with questions about your item, but rarely, if ever, buy it. Or they say they want the item, but never pay or pick it up, which is frustrating. On Craigslist, these are the "dibs" people - they want to put down "dibs" on your item, but they never follow-up with the purchase.

Separating the culture of buying from actual purchasing is important, if you are going to take control of your spending habits. For many people, the process of purchasing is the whole deal - looking at items, having them carefully wrapped, handing over the credit card, signing the slip, and then coming home with boxes and bags of "purchases". You know what I am talking about, and women in particular are vulnerable to this habit (and are the target of most retailers).

But men, too, can be snagged by the shopping bug. I knew a fellow who went bankrupt this way - going to the mall and trying to find happiness in a Nordstrom's bag. When he finally declared bankruptcy, his closet was stuffed with shopping bags of purchases that were never worn, used, or even removed from the shopping bags. To him, the act of purchasing was the whole deal.

Get off the shopping bandwagon. It only clutters your life. The "must have" Woot! rotating beacons might seem like a neat thing now, but you will eventually toss them in the trash, and wonder why you clicked "I want one" when you did.....