Caveat Emptor


Everyone loves a good deal. Supermarkets, department stores, drug stores and groceries are masters at piquing our interest in their wares. I vividly recall exiting a supermarket after purchasing over twenty items, gleeful that I had received some sort of discount on every single item.

Advertisements and circulars are constantly shoved into our mailboxes with offers. Buy one get one free. Spend $50 and get $10 towards your next purchase. Free gift with every purchase. More and more creative ideas are relentlessly engineered to lure us into their shops. The proliferation of these ‘specials’ points to their overwhelming success. Whether or not we are consciously mindful of these gimmicks, the average consumer is susceptible, spending more than they anticipated. This further fuels the advertising industry encouraging them in their efforts to entice us once again.

Sometimes vendors resort to the ‘loss leader’ strategy. Goods will be sold below market price and often at a loss, in the hope to draw customers into a store. Once the customer is in the store they are likely to buy other goods. The vendor expects that the typical customer will purchase other items at the same time and the revenue made on these items will wipe out the loss of the bait, so that an overall result is a net profit for the vendor.

In 1979, American businessman Earl Muntz decided to sell blank tapes and VCRs as loss leaders to attract customers to his showroom, where he would then try to sell them highly profitable widescreen projection TV systems of his own design. His success continued through the early 1980s.

Occasionally stores are more cunning and patiently assemble a long term plan. A steady low price is set to encourage the customer to frequent the store. This plan is often used to generate brand loyalty. The customer having switched alliances and made the new location their primary port of call, has been stealthily pried away from competitors.

A similar long-term loss leader strategy was employed by the daughters of Moab to entice Jewish men and incite their lust. But how do you persuade pious Jews and tempt them to sin? The Talmud (Sanherin 106a) tells us:

Balaam told Balak, The God of the Jews hates lewdness, and the Jews are very partial to linen. I advise you to erect tents selling linen garments. Set old women on the outside and place young pretty harlots inside them.

When the unsuspecting Jew would stroll in the market place, the old woman would say to him, “Can I interest you in some linen clothing?”

The old woman offered it at its current value, but the young one inside would discount the price selling the linen for less. This happened two or three times. After that she would say to him, “By now you are like one of the family; sit down and choose for yourself”.

Gourds of Ammonite wine lay near her, and she hospitably suggested to him, “Would you like to drink a glass of wine?”

Having drunk, his passion was inflamed, and he exclaimed to her, “Yield to me!”

Caveat emptor.

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