Pakistan’s Consumer Culture, How Brands Play with Your Wallet

Ever felt like you're getting a great deal during a sale? Think again! Brands might be playing tricks with your money and emotions.

Soma Amir
By Soma Amir 8 Min Read
Pakistan consumer culture, Shopping, Sale tactics and manipulations, Online shopping in Pakistan
A Karachi Market (File photo)

In a world where shopping has evolved from a necessity to an experience, the lure of sales and discounts has become a universal language for consumers. We are so addicted to this form of entertainment that we often ignore the darker side of these apparent bargains — a cunning dance of inflated prices and deceptive tactics. Welcome to the landscape of Pakistan’s consumer market, where local brands wield a double-edged sword during sales, both online and offline.

Picture this: the excitement you feel when the much-awaited sale is announced by your favorite clothing brand. Let me remind you of the recent Azaadi sale, which is still ongoing for some brands. You rushed to your favorite local brand’s website or store, , like I always do for handbags as a ritual, lured by the promise of slashed prices and unbeatable offers. But here’s the twist: these deals might not be as delightful as they seemed. Now, It’s a classic strategy. Brands inflate the original prices before the sale, only to bring them down to their actual rates during the sale. It’s a shell game where the consumers are the unsuspecting players.

This art of manipulation has become another well-practiced norm for our brands. It’s a strategic move to make you feel like you’re getting a steal, while in reality, you’re simply paying the original price. The allure of discounts blinds us to this unethical dance, and these brands profit from our perception.

But I don’t want you to forget the power we hold as consumers. It’s easy to shrug our shoulders and keep shopping, but we have the potential to demand change. This blog isn’t just about exposing these practices as most of us are already aware of them; it’s a call to action. A call for awareness, unity, and change in the way we approach our role as consumers.

What is Price Manipulation?

Price manipulation is a term that refers to the practice of artificially influencing the price of a market for personal gain. In this case, it involves deceiving or misleading other investors or customers by creating a false impression of supply and demand, or by spreading false or misleading information. Price manipulation is illegal in most cases, and it can harm the integrity and efficiency of the market. Pricing manipulation is a tactic that local brands in Pakistan have deftly embraced.

Here’s how it works: weeks before the sale, the price of a handbag that originally cost X amount is subtly elevated to, let’s say, 2X. When the sale day dawns, that same handbag is then offered at its actual price of X, leaving consumers with a sense of triumph — they believe they’ve secured a fantastic deal by purchasing a product at its original price.

And here’s the kicker — This isn’t just a mistake; it’s a planned trick. Brands are banking on the fact that you love discounts, and they’re using it against you. They want you to feel like you’re saving big, but they’re actually making money off your trust in the process.

Case study from Azaadi Sale 2023:

Let’s talk numbers. During the Azaadi sale, some local brands did this trick. The local yet, well-known handbag brand, which I often buy from, offered an almost 50% discount on handbags, saying the original price during the sale was Rs. 4200 to 5000. But here’s the thing. I bought the same handbag just a few days before this Azaadi sale, and it was actually sold for Rs. 2300. Now, when you bought this discounted handbag for Rs. 2300 during the sale, you probably thought you got a 50% discount without knowing their game. As smart citizens, it’s essential to be aware of these tricks and not get fooled by them.

Brand’s psychology:

These tactics might seem innocent, but they tap into powerful psychological triggers that influence our decisions.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out):
The urgency and scarcity tactics play on our fear of missing out on a great deal. We’re wired to avoid loss, so when we think we might miss something good, we’re more likely to make a quick purchase.

Emotional Connection:
Brands know that emotions play a big role in decision-making. By associating their products with positive feelings, they create a bond between you and the product, making it harder to resist.

Social Influence:
We often look to others for cues on what to do. When brands show us that a product is popular, we’re more likely to want it to fit in or feel like we’re making a good choice.

Reciprocity:
When a brand gives you a bonus or a discount, you feel a sense of obligation to give back – by buying their product. It’s the “I got something, now I should give something” feeling.

These tactics can lead to impulse buying, where you make a purchase without really thinking it through. While it might feel good in the moment, you might end up with things you don’t really need or regret later.

Consumer Complacency

Consumer complacency is a term that refers to a feeling of calm satisfaction with one’s own abilities or situation that prevents one from trying. In the context of shopping, consumer complacency means that consumers are satisfied or indifferent with their purchases, and do not question or challenge the practices of local brands that may be unethical or deceptive.

There are several possible reasons why consumers often overlook these unethical practices, such as:

You might find yourself in a situation where your choices are limited when it comes to buying products from local brands. Barriers like availability, affordability, accessibility, or the variety of products from other brands could be in your way. You might have your reasons, your favorites, or local brands you’re attached to, and change might not be on your radar.

Taking a stand against unethical practices might not seem enticing to you. You could be thinking, “What difference can my actions make?” Or, you might wonder if the benefits of speaking out are worth the potential costs or risks. With your plate already full of priorities and concerns, you might not feel the urge to spend your time and energy on consumer issues.

Consumer complacency can lead to negative outcomes for both you and society. Here’s why:

When you, as a consumer, grow complacent, you end up overpaying for products and missing genuine discounts from other brands.

Your complacency also erodes trust in local brands and their products, undermining your satisfaction, loyalty, and faith in the market.

What’s more, this complacency jeopardizes your rights, leaving you vulnerable to deceptive practices. It also limits your ability to shape policies for your well-being and welfare.

Collective Action and Accountability:

Consumers can become more active and involved in holding local brands accountable.

Think about the impact if you and other customers from all walks of life joined to demand justice and openness in the marketplace. Your individual voice is important, but collective pressure has a stronger impact. It’s time to acknowledge how your shopping decisions are influenced by the decisions of countless others. You have the ability to transform the consumer environment and determine how companies behave.

Global success stories that demonstrate how consumers’ collective voice may spark dramatic change can serve as inspiration. Organized consumer movements have forced brands to address unethical business and marketing practises in many parts of the world, paving the way for a more fair marketplace.

Holding brands accountable is not just a lofty ideal; it’s a pragmatic necessity. When you demand transparency and integrity, brands are compelled to listen. Your collective refusal to endorse unethical practices sends a clear message: you refuse to be complacent. This responsibility serves more than just your interests; it creates a climate where companies are forced to change and modernize their operations to meet expectations. According to a survey by Accenture, 62% of consumers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues such as sustainability, transparency, or fair employment practice. By doing so, businesses can build trust and loyalty with you and other consumers, and gain a competitive edge in the market.

Decoding the complaint culture

It’s easy to fall into the rhythm of complaining about issues we’re dissatisfied with. Sadly, this culture of complaining is becoming more common in our country. It might temporarily relieve your frustration, but it often leaves you stuck in a cycle of inaction. From the unethical pricing practices of our favorite brands, skyrocketing petrol prices to the never-ending saga of malfunctioning government services, we’ve got a lot to grumble about. But here’s the thing: our complaints, while valid, sometimes become a comfort zone. We vent, we rant, and then we wait for change as if it’ll magically appear. It’s like expecting a pizza delivery without actually placing the order.

Sometimes complaining is the first step to acknowledging issues. But, a complaint without action is like a cake without icing — it lacks that finishing touch. We can keep pointing fingers at the problems, or we can take the reins and steer the narrative towards solutions. Take these hefty petrol prices? Instead of just complaining, boycott petrol pumps for a day and see what happens. We’ve got the power to turn our collective frustration into a roar of change that’s impossible to ignore.

The road to change might be bumpy, but it’s a road we pave together. Complaining might feel cathartic, but acting brings results. Let’s set our ethnic and religious differences aside for once and just be Pakistani, step out of our comfort zones, and turn our voices into instruments of transformation.

This path requires more than words on a page; it necessitates unified action. While my words aim to shed light on these issues, real change can only be catalyzed when we all get together on this. The power to transform the consumer landscape rests in your hands — a coalition of individuals demanding fairness, honesty, and ethical conduct. Alone, I might be a voice, but together, we can be a force that demands change.

The author is a Public Policy Undergrad from NDU, with a passion for writing about social and economic issues that impact people’s lives.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in articles and blogs on Aware Pakistan are solely those of the authors and do not represent the official stance of the website. We are not liable for the accuracy of information provided by authors.

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