Why Do People Buy Things?

Created: February 28, 2023
Updated: August 10, 2023

This is a work in progress. I update this with new ideas.

The goal of this post is to backward engineer a full answer to the question: what makes people buy things?

That’s not the founding question at all (this is a later edit). The real question is: how does a Sellout make a product sell? Is it possible to take an object, anything, and make people want it? How do you do that?

To get to that, we must interrogate the original question: why do people buy things? More on that in a second.

This whole exploration will be successful if I can:

  • Turn things that people don’t currently want into sellable items. Ideally, popular items.

  • 80% of products or services fit into the model

This post will morph as it goes. The path I’ll take is what I believe is called the Socratic method - I have several questions, and I’ll explore the answers to those.

Here’s my initial question:

  • Why do people buy things - products or services?

Here’s my initial answer to that question:

  • To solve a specific problem

  • To reflect part of their identity

    • To gain access to a group

      • You join a new running club. You want to dress and look like a runner. There are casual-runner brands and real runner’s brands.
    • To show membership to a group

      • For example: show they support a sports team. Show they are environmentally conscious.

But in writing that answer, I have more questions.

  • First, why do people buy anything?

    • Why do people buy products?

    • Why do people buy services?

    • Other types of purchases are out there?

  • Second, it’s common in marketing to think, “people buy products to solve problems?” but,

    • How do people choose which problems they will solve?
      • What makes somebody aware of a problem?

      • What makes them say, “ok, this is a problem worth solving,” versus “Nah mate, not a problem for me”?

      • Why now?

        • When do people decide that now is the time to solve the problem?
  • Miscellaneous

    • We know products align to groups, e.g., cycling fans wear cycling gear. How do brands initially become aligned with a group?

      • How does a product align with a group?
    • Aside from Problem-Solving and Identity Products, what other product-buying reasons exist?