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Timing Is Everything, Even When Holiday Shopping

Is it really better to wait and shop last minute?

Key points

  • Waiting is not effective. Give the "early bird" the worm.
  • There is no gender difference in procrastination
  • Give rewards for performing early, not punishment for being late.

Ask Jerry and Ellaine. In an episode of “Seinfeld,“ they went to a New York City bakery for a chocolate babka, but the person ahead of them purchased the last one. They purchased a “lesser babka,” a cinnamon variety.

Consider holiday shopping.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article about incentives used by stores on the South Side to get men to gift shop. One store offers complimentary whiskey and nuts: another store free beer and gift wrapping. These are great incentives that the stores have used for several years. Great ideas.

The problem I have (after researching the causes and consequences of chronic procrastination for three decades) is the timing of these incentives. The stores offer these for male shoppers from December 22 to 25. In essence, they are rewarding procrastination. Timing is everything.

Research we have been conducting in my DePaul lab shows we should flip the use of incentives and reward people for doing things ahead of a deadline, for doing it early. Why not offer shopping incentives say November 22-25, motivating people to come out early and shop? In fact, let’s offer those deep Christmas Eve discounts (70-80 percent off) at Thanksgiving. Then, as we get closer to Christmas each weekend that discount rate gets lower and lower, and if someone shops on Christmas Eve – 20 percent surcharge. Stores would be able to restock their shelves earlier, shopping would not be as crowded the days before the holiday, and retailers would earn their profits earlier to manage their accounts. Let’s reward people for being early. Timing is everything.

If you are thinking these are nice techniques, but “it would never work” or “interesting for other people.” After which you think but-however, “it could work for others, but for me…” "However, in my situation…” You are engaging in excuse-making, something research shows to be prominent with procrastinators. There is always an excuse, it’s never their fault says the procrastinator.

Jerry and Elaine blamed their lack of purchasing a chocolate babka on others cutting the bakery line, not the fact that they forgot to take a number to be called for shopping. Timing is everything.

Follow “the early bird gets the worm” and stop rewarding procrastination. Offer incentives for shopping; provide them early, not the days before the deadline.

Procrastinators make excuses. Let’s talk to them around April 15 and tax filing. Timing is everything.

More from Deacon Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D.
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