Maybe it’s all the Black Friday deals, the subsequent retail promotions intended to drive sales through the holidays, or perhaps City Sports’ up to 40% going out of business sale that I see every morning on my way to work that have me thinking about “up to” claims. What are “up to” claims? To me, they are basically meaningless claims that use compelling numbers to lure consumers into engaging. And the unfortunate, or fortunate, thing is (depending on which side of the register you sit) these, and other meaningless claims seem to work.
As a cyclist, I received an email today from an online cycling company claiming their biggest sale of the year, with up to 72% off of their most popular items. And I clicked on it, only to curse myself moments later knowing that it was likely the least popular item (among their most popular items of course) that was 72% off, while everything else was barely discounted. Charles Tyrwhitt wants me to shop their “up to 70% off” sale, when yesterday it was “up to 60% off”. Sierra Trading Post bombards my promotional inbox with claimed savings of up to 80%. After numerous fruitless searches for 80% off, I’ve at least stopped clicking on those.
While not an “up to” claim, think about this: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance”. Well of course it could! Or it couldn’t! It can also result in consumers paying more, saving 2%, or nothing at all! Instead of “up to”, GEICO uses “could” and “or more” in their claim, so that really anything can happen to your car insurance quote when you give them a call and their claim is still 100% true (not up to 100% true, actually 100% true). Given the amount of time that they’ve been purporting it, I’m sure it’s working, and here’s my theory why.
While Sierra Trading Post uses “up to 80%” as a common claim, GEICO went a different route and selected a much more feasible number. Saving up to 15% on car insurance isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and given that consumers spend hundreds of dollars per year to insure their vehicles, it’s not an inconsequential amount…hang on, I’m going to call GEICO – be back in 15 minutes. In my opinion, it’s a brilliant use of a claim that is arguably more meaningless than any “up to” claim. But’s it brilliant just as long as GEICO actually delivers meaningful savings. And strategically it makes sense. Sierra Trading Post wants consumers to merely click through to their site where the consumer will ideally get caught up in all the cool outdoor gear they offer. GEICO, meanwhile, wants people to actually call and spend 15 wonderful minutes discussing car insurance, something that is uniquely priced based on the consumer and their vehicle – a much higher order call to action and one that’s much more likely to end in a sale.
So why did the cycling company chose “up to 72%”? Likely because it’s different and unique. Who has a 72% off sale? That cycling company does, and I totally remember it, and I want to see what’s it about, and I might even talk about it because it’s such an uncommon number. Breaking through the clutter of these kinds of claims and promotions, especially during the holidays, is important too.
So what does it all mean?
First for consumers, beware of these claims, especially around key promotional times. They’re meant to draw you in with promises of big savings (there’s a reason that “up to” is usually 1/10th the font size of the savings about percentage), and they especially appeal to deal seekers who can’t help but click or duck inside a store. Consider pausing to think about how meaningful the claim is, and whether there are actual, possible, or downright fictional savings. I recommend that the next time one of these promotions draws you in, do a quick estimate of how many relevant items live up to the claim the retailer made, or determine how much you actually saved. And did you end up buying something you didn’t want? It may make you think twice about responding to a similar promotion again. Finally, beware of “select items” language too – it can be a common addendum to “up to” claims, as well as a stand-alone promotion designed to draw you in with huge savings on items that neither you, nor the store, wants.
Second, for marketers, while these kinds of claims seem to have an impact, can’t we do better? To me, when promotions mention “up to”, “could”, or “select items”, there’s a sense of deception to them and arguably a lack of integrity. I’m not suggesting that we just do away with these types of claims altogether, rather that marketers who use them ensure that there is enough value behind them to justify the consumers’ engagement and potential patronage. Deceiving consumers can have a one-time positive impact on sales, but risk the long term equity of the brand, as consumers who realize that they were fooled don’t return (and potentially others not to as well). Better yet, find ways to attract and compel consumers with a solid, meaningful, and unique value proposition. I know, easier said than done, but worth aspiring towards nonetheless.
So best of luck to consumers, who will have to navigate these claims and promotions throughout the holiday season and beyond. And to marketers who, right or wrong, seem to be continually creating claims that build engagement and awareness without really saying much at all. Just make sure that if you choose to use these kinds of claims that you’re delivering real and meaningful value and not just fooling your consumers.