By Dr. Denise R. Ames
I want a good deal! That’s a mantra that many Americans live by. I have to confess, I am one of those people too. Sales always get my attention, special deals catch my eye, and something for nothing piques my interest. My husband always points out when I am in the getting-a-good-deal mode, and I always reply, “Oh no, I’m just being frugal.” It sort of irritates me that he can see a certain behavior in me that I want to disguise as something else.
A game show called Let’s Make a Deal has had a long television run, since 1963, and captures the human attraction to the spirit of deal-making. The US president, Donald Trump, prides himself on what he considers his deal-making skills. Deal-making is truly a popular behavior, and it is needed for the globalized economy and society to function. But I am making the case that we have been conned by the whole notion of deals and sales pitches. We need to step back and evaluate that experience.
On a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my family to celebrate my son and daughter-in-law’s tenth wedding anniversary, I really zoned in on what the true meaning of sales and deals is. The resort business in the region has captured the American penchant for sales, turning getting a good deal into an alluring art form.
The salespeople have to present a carefully honed image of the commodity they want to sell. Once the image has been determined, tactics are judiciously used to convince the buyer to purchase the commodity. A slipup either way—that is, being too aggressive or too passive—will result in a lost sale.
Since Americans are stuffed to the gills with material objects such as jewelry and clothes, personal experiences are emerging as something new to add to the cornucopia of saleable delights.
Americans love to be pampered and made to feel special. At a resort, the spa is the perfect encapsulation of the marketing of pampering. Spa packages are promoted at every turn, with a relaxed (usually beautiful) woman enjoying spa-going bliss. In fact, the spa concept is so enticing that a resort can be built around this image alone. Needless to say, we all indulged in a luxury spa package. I have to admit, it was delightful.
Another great deal that the resort we visited promoted was the discount resort vacation. Whole groups of salespeople were on hand to sell the concept of purchasing discounted travel packages for resorts around the world, especially the Caribbean and Mexican regions. Getting a good deal on the package was at the forefront of the sales pitch. Even before we checked into the hotel, a friendly salesperson approached us with refreshments and told us about his product. A few of us decided to see what he was offering. We ended up getting a good deal on a city tour and spa package.
One of the ways in which a different, and also very nice, travel-package salesperson worked to entice us was by comparing our accommodations with those of the more upscale hotel adjoining ours. My daughter-in-law, ever frugal, had purchased the low-end resort package. Touring the more upscale accommodations showed us that, indeed, our hotel and its services were subpar in comparison. Suddenly we were pointing out the miniscule defects in our hotel and its services. We wanted, at least, a better view of the ocean and faster drink service. We even noted that the people in the upscale hotel looked more relaxed and happier than the people in our hotel!
Although we never had any intention of purchasing the travel package, we found ourselves swept along by the sales pitch. Finally, the head of sales joined us at our table, which was laden with tropical drinks to get us to agree and sign on the bottom line. I wondered how we’d gotten this far.
When the costs and terms were finally presented, they were so complicated and opaque that we knew who was going to get the good deal after all. We all politely declined the offer and stumbled off to our inferior hotel accommodations. But we had, in our happy little hands, prized vouchers for a discounted city tour, a spa package, and a romantic dinner by the ocean for the anniversary celebrants.
Afterward, when our brains’ “getting-something-for-nothing mechanisms” finally cooled down, we reflected a bit on the sales pitch we had just endured. Our accommodations were fine; we had just been tricked by our own delusions into making comparisons that didn’t really matter. We’d been pulled in by the prospect of a deal. Marketing firms design ways to prey upon our fragile egos, with the goal of getting us to gladly part with our hard-earned money—all for the illusion of seemingly worthwhile products and experiences.
I would like to share with you the lesson I learned. Making a seemingly good deal is so entrenched in the inner workings of the modern globalized economy that we need to be ever vigilant about falling into an enticing trap. The resort experience, with its endless food and drink and spa indulgences, can feel very shallow after a few days. I was happy that I was there with my family to make the experience one of meaning and enjoyment.
As I was walking along the beach outside our hotel, I noticed a large Mexican family having a picnic on the beach. They had endless stacks of coolers and picnic tables covered with food. Children played in the sand, while the adults laughed heartily. They didn’t have to participate in the globalized economy or buy a discount resort package in order to enjoy their family, the day, and the beauty of nature stretched out before them. Truly, it’s a lesson to remember!
Questions to Consider
- What “good deals” have you had lately?
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.