Last week, my girlfriend’s best friend visited for a few days. As we caught up, she told us about how she and her husband love to buy junk at flea markets and yard sales, then resell it online for a hefty profit.
She gave us a few examples like buying old Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards for a few bucks, then flipping them for $400 each, or finding a tattered sweater and selling it to a fashion collector for way more than a brand-new name-brand one costs.
“You all probably have tons of stuff you could sell right now just lying around!” she said.
I used to collect old money, so I looked up a $2 bill with a red ink seal I’ve had since elementary school out of curiosity…
It got me thinking…
Why the hell would anyone pay $2,500 for something that’s dollar value is literally $2?
Why do people pay big bucks for used junk all the time?
How can creators use this information to grow their online business?
I realized it comes down to two concepts from buyer psychology.
Let’s dive in…
Do you know why we love things that give us a sense of nostalgia?
Because it reminds us of simpler, better times.
Even if reality wasn’t actually simpler or better at the time, our perception is that it was—typically because it’s a childhood memory that was flawed to begin with and we’ve revisited and reconstructed it so many times, our current memory bears virtually no resemblance to the original event.
But life is about perspective. So nostalgic reminders instantly put us in a positive emotional state.
Here’s what I mean…
McDonald’s Happy Meal Halloween Nuggets
A real person paid $100 for these 30-year-old cheap pieces of plastic from a fast food chain.
But when I see this image?
I instantly think about being four years old, running around the house enjoying the Halloween decorations, playing with Precious—my deaf Dalmatian, and spending mornings cuddled under the sheets of my mom’s water bed watching Power Rangers.
The 90’s were awesome (at least in child’s mind’s memories). So 90’s-themed things instantly put me in a positive emotional state.
Disney’s Hercules Plates
I wouldn’t want to pay $145 for a set of 6 fancy plates.
But I’d honestly be fine paying $145 for these super cheap plastic ones because of the instant nostalgia. I can virtually feel my brain lighting up just looking at this image.
Adulthood is rough.
So childhood—with its lack of stress, bills, and responsibilities—seems like a psychological safe haven.
People dream about simpler, happier times in their lives, and we actively seek ways to relive the “good old days.”
So when adults have expendable income and see a way to relive part of their childhood, they throw insane amounts of money at it.
But we also connect with people who have shared interests with us.
Understanding the power of nostalgia is the first concept from buyer psychology (I’ll go over ways you can apply it later in this article).
But first, you need to understand the second reason people spend so much on used junk…
Price is a story.
Rarity is a story.
History is a story.
Prestige is a story.
The entire field of copywriting is about telling the right story to get someone to buy something.
A story is simply what a thing represents to us.
- This is rare.
- This is important.
- This will make my life better.
- This will make me stronger, smarter, popular, successful, whatever.
Here’s what I mean…
Why would someone pay $47,500 for a 70-year-old piece of cardboard?
Because of the story that it’s a rare piece of sports history.
Why would anyone pay for a 16-year-old phone, when a 3-year-old phone is considered obsolete and barely works?
Let alone pay $38,200 for it???
You could get a brand-new Dodge Challenger for that much money.
Because of the story that it’s a piece of history and would give you prestige within the tech collector community.
If you can craft a compelling story, people will be drawn to you and what you create.
So how can you apply these two concepts from buyer psychology to your online creator business?
How to Leverage Buyer Psychology
You don’t need to build a business in a nostalgia niche or license IP to make merch to apply the concepts.
By leveraging nostalgia and storytelling, you can build a deeper connection with your audience, widen your creator moat, and grow your online business.
As you create content, think about these questions:
- How can I create a shared sense of nostalgia to put my audience in a positive emotional state?
- What generation-specific pop culture references can I make to build affinity with my audience?
- How can I craft a story that makes my audience care about my content because they believe in its value and significance to their lives?
Take this story for example…
I grew up super poor—like food stamps and public housing poor.
Like many kids in the 90s, I loved Pokémon. I collected all 151 of the originals and carried them with me in a meticulously organized binder. Also like many 90s kids, I had no idea how to actually play the card game.
So when the video games came out for Gameboy, I was stoked to immerse myself more in the world. Because, you know, you gotta catch‘em all.
But I couldn’t afford the games.
I stared jealously as my friend played his copy all day.
But then I realized he was jealous of my card collection.
So I traded him my holographic Charizard (I had multiple duplicates) for his Pokémon Red and green Gameboy color.
That was my first taste of entrepreneurship, and I’ve been hooked ever since (and I still have that Gameboy and Pokémon Red).
Now consider these questions:
- As you read that, what emotions did you feel?
- What memories of your own popped up?
- How do you feel about me now versus before you learned about my love of Pokémon and the story of my first entrepreneurial experience?
I could’ve just as easily referenced playing Crossfire or 007 GoldenEye with my cousin, or how one of my favorite memories from high school is skipping class to go in the back of the broadcast journalism classroom to play Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64.
How much is a memory worth?
At least $4,799.99 according to eBay…
If these were part of your childhood, or you saw yourself in my story, then you probably feel a slightly deeper connection toward me and my content.
Because I used nostalgia to evoke a positive emotion in you and told a story that had emotional resonance and significance.
Why do people pay big bucks for used junk?
They buy what that junk represents to them.
Because nothing has intrinsic value—we and we alone give things value.
So understanding how people put a value on things, and what kinds of things they value, is a powerful strategy to build a deeper connection with your audience, widen your creator moat, and grow your online business.
You can use buyer psychology to sell paid things. But you can also use it to sell a relationship—your relationship with your audience.
You can craft a story that your content is worth your audience’s time to consume—that you are worth paying attention to.
And over time, your audience will associate you and your content with a positive emotional state (aka, what psychologists call second-order conditioning).
That’s the power of leveraging nostalgia and storytelling.
So when in doubt, tap into nostalgia and craft a compelling story.