Tis the season to be hurried, fa la la la la, la la la la.

With all the recent talk about fashion retailers creating false sale ‘countdowns’ to drive sales. One online retailer, Boohoo has even caught the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority. We asked Sam Copland, Lecturer in Marketing, to opine on the topic.

UoG Business:  What was the aim of the countdown clock?

SC:  ‘The point of Boohoo’s countdown is to create a sense of urgency – that time was running out. They hope we feel pressure to buy within that time period which may result in a purchase we don’t necessarily need or want.

UoG Business:  What’s at the root of this phenomenon?

This is because when we see the time passing we feel like we have to do something about it and you get that in all walks of life; you see a clock counting down and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re involved or not, you just suddenly feel pressure and its amplified on the website when you see a big clock saying “Sale Ends …”.

It makes one feel like there is an internal, subconscious driver that is making them do something before the time runs out and it stops them thinking logically and rationally about their purchase. This trick is used by brands across the sector, not just by Boohoo.

UoG Business: Is this unique to retail?

SC: No. It’s used in other industries as well. An example of this is political pressure groups doing countdowns to voting day. So, they can give a countdown to register, then a countdown to vote. This can be seen particularly in America, where recently with the mid-term elections there were different political pressure groups putting countdowns to register for elections in order to create urgency. Therefore what Boohoo is doing is not new at all. The mistake they’ve made is not removing that countdown and by having it on a loop. The problem when a brand does this is that they completely break consumer trust and viewed as a very cynical way to increase sales.

UoG Business: So considering tactics like the one employed by Boohoo is done within retail and other industries, has Boohoo broken the advertising rules by simply putting the countdown on a cycle?

UoG Business: So what’s next for Boohoo and how can other retailers not fall suffer the same fate?


SC: Taking a rather charitable position, they probably weren’t even thinking about it. The marketing team, the managers or whoever was in charge of the countdown clock promotion may have been thinking ‘Oh the sale is doing really well, let’s keep it going.’ Promotions that are doing well will keep going until they stop doing so well, then they are stopped and this is done to maximise profit.

Of course, they could have stopped the sale and re-launched it another day, so not doing so was a big mistake. Now, it will be interesting to see how they will respond to it and who gets the blame. Maybe they will just blame whoever put it on the website, which often happens and they may say ‘it was the actions of one person’.

UoG Business:  Finally, have you completed your Christmas shopping, Sam.  There are only 15 days until Christmas.

Sam Copland: No comment

Fa la la lala la la

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