The Problem With "Convenience Buys" and "Pity Buys"

Updated on June 9, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years experience in marketing and sales including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

Sometimes, the "know, like, and trust" factor is actually detrimental to sales. Explore the negative aspects of pity buys and convenience buys.
Sometimes, the "know, like, and trust" factor is actually detrimental to sales. Explore the negative aspects of pity buys and convenience buys. | Source

It's been said over and over and over: People buy from those they know, like, and trust. Sometimes, though, sales that are made only because of the "know, like, and trust" factors can be detrimental to future sales.

The Convenience Buy

I used to be a distributor for promotional giveaways, which are items imprinted with logos to help advertise a business. Since I was already selling print advertising, it seemed like a natural fit. For many years, selling both of these related products and services helped me maximize my sales to a niche rich with co-op advertising dollars to spend.

Then the print advertising publisher I represented closed. While I did retain some of the print advertising client base as promotional customers for a few years after that, that side of my business eventually died, too.

Why didn't these customers continue? Fact was my print advertising customers were buying promotional products from me simply because it was convenient for them to do so along with their print ads. When they no longer had a reason to buy the print ads from me to use up their co-op advertising funds, many moved their promotional products buying to the open market, sometimes going to even more convenient online vendors.

My selling ego took a hit. It was hard for me to admit that some of these folks were buying from me merely out of convenience.

The Pity Buy

While the convenience buy does make some sense from a practical standpoint, another "sale of convenience" does not: buying out of pity.

Like the convenience buy, pity buyers and sellers are in convenient, close proximity, either physically or virtually. They may even have friendly relationships with each other. To show support, they may buy products and services from each other regardless of whether a real need exists or not. This situation is common in networking, especially in leads groups where giving or referring sales to other members is a requirement.

Also, these sales are not based on a genuine need. These purchases are made out of pity for the seller's plight or feelings. As a result, the seller gets a false sense of success and security. Then, when these customers discontinue buying, the seller is left confused, emotionally hurt, struggling, and sometimes broke.

Convenience and Pity Sales Referrals

Sometimes what's being "sold" is a referral or lead. In networking, particularly in leads groups, sales referrals can be given to a fellow member simply because he is conveniently in the group. Networking groups may also feel like they need to help new or struggling members by passing both legit and lame "pity" referrals to them.

In both situations, the leads are often poorly qualified, which can cause the seller to chase bad or unprofitable business. The seller who received the referral opportunity may also feel socially obligated to pursue the business, regardless of its value.

Tips for Avoiding Convenience and Pity Sales

Don't beg for buys. Begging may work for dogs. But both sides lose when begging becomes part of the selling process. The buyer gets nothing—and may even lose—when giving in to a beg for a pity sale. The seller may gain this sale, but the next one is not assured since this one wasn't based on providing value for the buyer. It was only won using coercive tactics such as pity, peer pressure, or guilt.

Don't take it personally. If a friend, family member, or "convenient" customer doesn't buy from you or stops buying from you, don't take it personally. They're just making a decision that's right for them. You want customers who are buying from you because they have a need and value the particular solution you provide—not just because they feel obligated, feel sorry for you, or find you to be a convenient solution at the moment.

Don't feel obligated to return the favor. Turning the tables, here's an arm-twisting technique that sellers may use on you to gain sales. This can easily happen in close-knit networking groups where sellers and buyers are convenient and in frequent contact. Sellers, disguising themselves as buyers, may make a small or token purchase from you with the hope that you will feel obligated to return the favor and buy something (usually bigger) from them. Refuse to return the favor and you could be in for a healthy dose of guilt from this "seller/buyer." If you receive a sale from a very unlikely or inappropriate buyer, beware that there may be ulterior motives at work.

Don't do sales "exchanges." I had a very odd experience that's a variation of the last scenario. I was approached by another freelancer who suggested that we purchase a small service from each other through a site we both use. The goal of the purchase "exchange" was for each of us to receive a (forced) positive rating and add to our sales track records, thereby improving both our chances of getting found and hired. I think this could be filed as both a convenience and pity buy—and gaming the system. (I politely declined, of course.)

Don't refer unless qualified. If a sales lead or its intended recipient is not qualified, nobody wins. The referring party appears clueless or unprofessional. The customer prospect can feel frustrated when the connection is fruitless, or even negative. And the seller wastes time chasing the wrong business. Learn to accurately evaluate any sales opportunities you refer and the people you are connecting. If you're on the receiving end of a bad convenience or pity referral, summon up the courage to be honest with the parties involved to avoid pursuing business you shouldn't.

The Bottom Line

Understand why your customers do and don't buy from you. If a significant share of your sales are achieved because of convenience or pity, be aware that you are in a very precarious situation that could impact your sales income and future.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    You're welcome, MsDora! We encounter these situations much more than we imagine. Appreciate you stopping by! Have a great day!

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    3 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for the information and the suggestions on dealing with convenience and pity buys. You give sensible tips.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello Blond Logic! Great example of the negative impact this behavior can have. It can be very difficult for many people to say no. Thank you for adding that very relevant story to the conversation. Have a great week!

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 

    3 years ago from Brazil

    My mother's house was full of things she purchased from family or friends who were starting out in various sales jobs. These were all pity buys, as I can't think of one which she really needed or wanted. She felt obligated to buy but this left her often feeling cheated and her friend embarrassed.

    When someone is starting out, it can be difficult to build confidence but begging for a sale isn't the answer.

    Interesting topic.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, I just can't see you being a sales beggar. Seriously. Of course, I haven't experienced your farmers' market pitches. But I'm guessing you make folks feel pretty comfortable, even in this different buying scenario. Granted, because of the typically short selling time you have in a situation like that, pitches can become a bit more pressured. Plus, the element of convenience is a factor in a retail setting.

    Where convenience and pity really become a nuisance is in networking (or in fundraising as our friend FlourishAnyway pointed out). You keep seeing the same people over and over. Results may not be forthcoming due to a variety of issues. Then these emotional levers often kick in to make things happen, in spite of the lack of value being exchanged.

    Thanks for adding the retail scenario to the conversation! Have a great rest of your weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Sadly, Flourish, I think all of us can recognize ourselves in these situations at some point in our lives. I was just thinking about networking situations, but forgot all about those oh-so-uncomfortable fundraising sales. Ack! Thanks for adding that to the conversation. Have a great rest of the weekend!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    3 years ago from USA

    This is good. It's like buying those overpriced fundraising candles and cookie dough from school kids that you don't need. Pity is no basis for sales. I wonder if anyone recognizes themselves in this?

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Sound advice on this Sunday morning. I definitely try very hard not to "beg" for sales. I'm a low-key kind of guy when it comes to marketing my books....I ramp it up a bit when it comes to our products for farmers' markets...different products, different approach.


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