What was the last impulse buy you made? Perhaps you spotted an adorable sweater you just had to have. Or maybe you splurged on the latest gadget and blew all your lai see.
As though there weren't enough temptations when out shopping, stamp collecting schemes are becoming more common. The schemes tempt you to spend just that little bit more money whenever you are out.
Collecting stamps to get free gifts is nothing new, but while it used to be an occasional promotion, it's now a permanent marketing strategy.
The scheme is simple: for every, say, HK$20 spent at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Circle K, the customer is given a cute stamp.
Once you've collected a few of these stamps, you can exchange them for a small toy from a cartoon or anime series, such as Hello Kitty. Six stamps and HK$20 will get you a toy, or you save up 16 stamps and receive the toy for free.
There's just one problem: you don't get to pick which toy you receive. If you really want to complete the set, you'd better be ready to collect a lot of stamps.
Stores such as 7-Eleven and Circle K have ro stamp-collecting schemes in recent years to boost sales. And it seems to be working.
Ason Keong Chun-sing, 20, a fanatic of the Japanese comic One Piece, gathers with friends at a 7-Eleven store once or twice a week to buy food and drinks, refreshment after their regular football matches.
"We used to buy drinks at the supermarket to save money," says Keong, a science student in the first year of an associate degree at HKU Space. But shopping at convenience stores offered the bonus of One Piece figurines. "I think I'm still a smart spender. I exchanged the figures [I already had] with friends," he says.
"The amount I spent on the set of comic figures was actually less than the amount I'd pay for similar products. I'm not a stamp collecting addict either, as I don't continue after getting what I want."
But not everybody is like Keong. Kevin Lam Tsz-leong got hooked on stamp-collecting when trying to impress a girl he liked.
"[I would always] buy items which offered extra stamps. I was collecting stamps for a girl and I must have got at least 200 stamps for her in the end. She completed her collection and received the full set of toys from many of the schemes. She could only do it with my help," said Lam, 21, a first-year student at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
"I felt good when I spent HK$100 but got 16 stamps in return because of my careful planning. [Even though in the end] I couldn't date the girl, I have no regrets because I enjoyed the process. But I have to admit, I did spend more money on stuff I didn't want."
Minnie Lo Pui-yue, also 21, had a similar experience. "I used to tell my younger brother not to spend lots of money buying magazines. But I wanted stamps so badly I didn't hesitate to buy expensive magazines myself to get more stamps," said Lo, a Year Four translation student at Hang Seng Management College.
"I estimated that I spent at least HK$1,000 at the convenience store. The main motivation was to get more stamps."
Alex Tsang Sze-lung, associate professor in marketing at Baptist University, says the stamp scheme is used by stores to build a certain type of customer loyalty.
"This is not real brand loyalty. The scheme forces you to [shop] at the same store to complete the collection," says Tsang. "It's a marketing strategy to ensure stable sales. People don't usually stick with the same [shop]. They prefer to buy what they need at the nearest shop. They don't care about the brand."
Tsang is not against the schemes, saying customers can have fun with them. But he reminds people to be cautious.
"We need to learn from mistakes. Think twice before you [buy]. Think about if you actually need it. [That way] we can gradually get rid of the impulse buying of unnecessary items."
If you do feel you really need to complete your collection, though, Tsang suggests swapping toys with friends or searching on an online forum for a trade, to avoid spending so much.