The science behind 3-for-2 deals

By Isabelle Coetzee

We have all stood in a store aisle trying to do the math on which three items we should choose when we opt for a “three for the price of two” deal, or a “3-for-2” deal.

But is there really a science to it? We have a look at whether there’s a right way to make this purchasing decision, and we consider some general advice regarding sales promotions.

Tip: Never spend more than you can afford. Get debt consolidation today if you’re struggling.

How do 3-for-2 deals work?

Companies make a profit because they sell products for more than what they pay for them. This comes with a risk, as consumers may not be as interested as the retailer had expected. This is where promotions, such as the 3-for-2 deal, come in.

Instead of selling shirts for, let’s say, R120, they now offer three shirts (which would have cost R360) for the price of two shirts (at R240). Their profit will decrease by 30%, but they will still make R140, which they may not have made otherwise.

This kind of sales promotion entices consumers in the following ways:

  • It convinces them to buy items they wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
  • It makes items they may have been interested in more affordable.
  • It gives them access to duplicates of the same products (with slight variations).

READ MORE: Did you know there are alternatives to traditional budgeting?

Can you win with 3-for-2 deals?

In some cases, companies offer 3-for-2 deals on a range of products, where the cheapest one is free. For example, a retailer could offer a 3-for-2 deal on shorts, where someone could select three pairs of shorts for the price of two, but they don’t all look the same and their prices vary slightly.

If one pink pair of shorts costs R140, a blue pair with yellow knitting costs R170, and a brown and black pair costs R200, then which combination would get you the most for your money?

If you only consider the monetary implications here, you should buy three pairs of identical shorts. If you choose two for R200 and one for R140, then you pay R400 and save R140. However, if you choose two for R200 and another one for R200, then you save R200.

Therefore, you should always buy three of the same items if you want to win financially. But there are other considerations, such as whether you really need three pairs of the exact same pants.

How to avoid losing with sales promotions

According to Eloise Boezak, head of customer experience at African Bank, you should focus less on the price and more on whether you actually need an item.

“We often buy impulsively as we are attracted by the deal. But if you purchase any deal of something that you do not need, you are actually wasting money,” says Boezak.

She puts forward the following two tips you should keep in mind when you see sales promotions:

  • The best deals are for items you use on a regular basis, such as non-perishables or cleaning materials.
  • Ideally, look for products with a longer shelf life and increased usability. Don’t purchase items with a short shelf life, unless you have a specific plan to use the items immediately.

“Think carefully before you buy anything unplanned. Stores will always make a deal seem good, but that does not mean it’s good for you or your budget. We have all heard of buyer’s remorse. Always think twice and avoid the buyer’s trap,” says Boezak.

“Retailers know consumers often buy more than they need. They know that if they use smart sales promotions, consumers may even buy something they didn’t plan to at all,” she explains.   

Tip: Stick to your budget and settle your debt first. Sign up for debt consolidation today.

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