On Panic buying “exclusive” Tea

It’s a fact that good Tea sells out often and rises in price every year, however there are many different ways in which tea vendors can release and talk about Tea, some of which make it seem more exclusive than it actually is and induce more panic buying.

There will be new teas, and as you learn more you may end up paying less for it because you learn what you like.

I bought Tea I regretted buying in the past because of how the vendor was selling it, I believed the story and thought it might sell out soon so I bought a lot (or maybe just an expensive cake that wasn’t that good without first sampling it). Then with a cooler head I felt part stupid and part like I got played.

Actually I hadn’t realised exactly what was happening until I started considering doing some “exclusive releases” myself, but the more I thought about it the more it felt wrong, and finally I understood why exactly, this article is a result of this process.

This is how it started: for some cakes I put samples up before the actual cakes and I put in a “notify when in stock” plugin when people can input their email to be notified when cakes are available. When I tried it, the plugin default email was “Product is in stock. But hurry up, this email is no guarantee you can get one and we will sell out soon!”. Excuse me, what? This I say to illustrate how common scarcity marketing is (particularly in ecommerce), it’s “the way things are done” and a lot of online tea suffers from it too.

3 ways of inducing FOMO, the first very obvious and the others not obvious:

1. Making the tea seem more exclusive than it actually is by making big claims of it. This generally backfires once a customer tries other vendors and realises what he bought until then was over-hyped.

2. Another common way is to release a Tea in small batches to create an immediate sell out situation. This means at the next small batch release people will do things like wake up at night to be sure to be the first, buy tea they’re not sure they want for fear of missing out (FOMO), brag online they got in first and play into other people’s jealousy/FOMO.

Once it’s started, the situation perpetuates itself because the more FOMO there is, the more people will join in and buy early and more. It’s very easy to sell so much more Tea like this: release a small batch, sell out, release another small batch with higher price (for extra FOMO) some weeks/months later, rinse and repeat.

This is the perfect marketing situation for a business, and generally people don’t realise it can be intentional so it doesn’t backfire against the vendor. Instead the reputation of “exclusivity” is confused with “quality”, so a vendor can scale their prices up and get a cult-like following.

Unless it’s the first time it happens, a vendor knows that their new release will sell out quickly, yet they release a small batch and somehow a few weeks later they have more with exact same storage (but this time the price is higher…?). Why didn’t they just release more at once if they know the FOMO sell out will happen?

Maybe once or twice they genuinely found more they thought they couldn’t at first (but how can it be if the storage is the same and therefore the source is the same?), and once or twice they didn’t think they’d sell as much. But if this is a pattern, I struggle to believe it’s not intentional. And given how desirable it is from a profit point of view (I think you can sell 3-5 times as much if you have the sell-out hype, and at 20-50% higher markup).

3. A smaller version of this is already having different tea, but waiting to sell the current tea before making it available, again giving an artificially smaller selection to customers is a subtle way of manipulating them into buying more.

I wonder how much we just accepted “that’s just the way things are, good tea sells out quick and I must BUY IT NOW!” and how much we ignore what vendors actively choose to do to encourage the dynamic.

We also accept that vendors can raise price arbitrarily, and the sell-out, release more at higher price dynamic is seen as acceptable and normal. Is it?

Also, I’ve always been skeptic of people saying “this will sell out quickly”, what is their motivation? Probably, to make you buy now. But if it will actually sell out quick, why would they need to say this? Well because it wouldn’t sell out quick without inducing FOMO.

I’m not saying every vendor that has sell outs does this, sometimes people genuinely want a Tea that’s not being hyped/artificially restricted and there’s too little of it. I’m suggesting to check for yourself how much the vendor is playing with people’s FOMO.

I’m also saying that the more you drink good Tea, the more you will find Tea you really, really love, and maybe you will also spend less as you learn what you like. While the general market trend is for price to go up and up, you will learn more and there will be new teas.

My advice condensed is: sample before buying a cake, do buy a tong or more if you have drank a lot of the tea and know you love it. Not like it, not ok-for-the-price, love it. But if what makes you feel like buying it is just the scarcity of it, I would hold on.

From now on I personally will not buy from vendors that engage in these practices. Only vendors that don’t do “sell out and releasing the same tea later”, and other arbitrary hyped release tricks or outlandish claims about tea for me please.

It might even be good Tea, but do I want to contribute to a lot of people having limited-released-tea-anxiety? No, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *