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Published: Sunday, 9/18/2005

Why did I buy it?

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Donna Ziems and the  ugly, but
not ugly  lamp. Donna Ziems and the ugly, but not ugly lamp.
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Maybe if the little dog had barked at her, Janice Kulczak would have paid no attention.

But it whispered, its bright eyes pleading, unblinking: Buy me, darling. Buy me.

The normally sensible shopper was smitten.

Petite Dolores Perlman bought this large necklace on a cruise   but she s never worn it. Petite Dolores Perlman bought this large necklace on a cruise but she s never worn it.
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"I saw it and I kept going back and looking. It was just so sweet, I just had to have it."

And so the $200 ceramic dog with perky flowered hat was whisked from the hotel gift shop in Reno to her living room in Perrysburg, where it has been ever since.

"It was not like me at all," Mrs. Kulczak admitted. "I always think, 'Do I really need this?' But I just bought it."

Six years later, she still loves the dog and has no regrets.

Helen Dansker likes the cabinet she got a great deal on, but regrets buying some exercise DVDs.
Helen Dansker likes the cabinet she got a great deal on, but regrets buying some exercise DVDs.
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Not all spur-of-the-retail-moment purchases end so happily. The item that speaks to us so persuasively in the store, on television, or online can turn on us later, snarling, What were you thinking?

Dolores Perlman ponders that question to this day, four years after she bought a necklace during a cruise to the Greek islands. It cried out to her. She whipped out her money.

She has never worn it.

She can't even give it away. "I have offered it to friends. Nobody wants it," said the West Toledo woman. "I don't know what got into me."

Here's how it happened: Killing time before dinner one evening, Mrs. Perlman visited the cruise ship casino, where she saw a beautiful, statuesque woman wearing a beaded necklace that tied in the back. Mrs. Perlman admired the necklace. The woman replied that she had made it and would be willing to sell it.

"I said, how much? She said $50 and I said OK," Mrs. Perlman said. She didn't try to negotiate the price, nor did she try the necklace on - which turned out to be the crucial misstep.

"I'm a small person," Mrs. Perlman said. The necklace that was so stunning and right on the voluptuous figure of the fellow passenger wasn't right at all on her. "This was a white elephant," she admitted.

But maybe it's not all our fault. Maybe sometimes we're just victims of sophisticated marketing machines that know how to push our "buy" button.

It's no secret that retailers tweak their decor, layout, services, signs, and product line to attract specific types of customers. The colors and images on packaging also can influence our buying behavior, noted Ainsworth Bailey, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Toledo.

He cited the "pester factor" in some unplanned purchases. That is, bright colors or cartoon characters on a box or label are aimed at children with the hope they'll nag their parents into buying the product. Color also can motivate us to buy something by establishing a link to a worthy cause - pink candies to support breast cancer research and treatment, for example.

Ever accept a free food sample from a vendor in a grocery store? "We may feel an obligation to purchase the product so we don't make this person feel bad," Mr. Ainsworth said.

Sometimes the pressure comes from shopping with other people, he added: their presence, their purchases, or their influence may make us buy when we otherwise wouldn't, or spend more money than we would on our own.

Jim Welch, financial counselor/supervisor at the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northwestern Ohio, isn't about to take consumers off the hook for impulse purchases, but said that sellers do know how to motivate us.

"There might be a special sale price to catch your eye, or on the Internet it might say 'free shipping.' Infomercials might say 'four easy payments of $33, but if you act now we'll make it three payments for $33.' They may even throw in a gift if you purchase something," he said.

Even if impulse items aren't expensive - say, a magazine or candy bar at the checkout lane - "those things really start to add up over a period of time," Mr. Welch said.

He suggested keeping track of such purchases for a month or so. You might be spending far more than you realized.

Also, "If you can, make a shopping list beforehand and stick to those items. If you know the store, just go to those particular areas rather than wandering around," he said.

If you're tempted by an expensive item, give yourself a day or two to think about it before buying, Mr. Welch continued. "Lots of times by actually leaving the store you realize, 'It's not something I need to have.'‚óŹ"

People sometimes justify a splurge by telling themselves, "I worked hard. I deserve to have that, or I earned it," he observed.

Pam Alspach of Sylvania Township knows what trips her trigger - "the thrill of a bargain," she confessed.

While on vacation some years ago in San Diego, she took a bus trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where she spied a string of decorative purple onions in a gift shop, priced at $25.

"Everything there is about bartering," she explained. "I spent the whole rest of the day going around to different places and bargaining until I found a guy who was willing to sell them for $10."

By the time she got back to San Diego, the thrill was gone. "I left them in the hotel room," Ms. Alspach said.

The owl lamp bases that Donna Ziems bought when she lived in West Virginia made the trip back to South Toledo, where she now lives, but they've never made the trip from the garage into the house. "The owls are really cute, but you wouldn't put these lamps in a nice room," she said.

Put another way: "They're ugly, but they're not ugly," Mrs. Ziems said.

Something told her to buy them, she recalled. Mrs. Ziems heeded that little voice in the antique shop about 10 years ago, paying $17 for the set of two (no lamp shades included).

Each plaster of Paris base consists of three white owls perching on tree stumps. They're arranged around a large hollowed stump that's designed to be used as an ashtray. Turtles lounge at the edge.

"I had to have them," Mrs. Ziems said.

Helen Dansker of Maumee knows that feeling - and the feelings that follow, both triumph and remorse.

Her worst impulse purchase: a set of Winsor Pilates DVDs that she was inspired to buy in the wee hours of a sleepless night as she watched a television infomercial. "And before I knew it, [I] had the credit card out and was dialing the number to order the DVDs. I had actually forgotten about it after falling back asleep, until a week or so later when they arrived, as did the charge on my credit card."

Wide awake by then, too, she realized there wasn't enough space to exercise in her living room - "and moving the furniture every day to do Pilates was not going to happen," she explained via e-mail.

Today, the DVDs - $39.95 plus shipping - are stashed away, but Ms. Dansker gets occasional reminders that they're there: calls from the company's vitamin division trying to sell her supplements.

But what's more invigorating than a successful impulse buy? Something that's good-looking, useful, and a great bargain to boot?

Ms. Dansker has one of those, too: an assemble-it-yourself kitchen cabinet with hutch top. As she recalls, it was marked 50 percent off the original full price of more than $250.

When the clerk brought out one of the unassembled cabinets for her to buy, the carton was marked $39.95 and tagged for 50 percent off that price.

"So, I got the item for less than $20! I put it together myself, I love it, and receive compliments on it all the time!"

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.



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