It happens to us all!
. . . and leave with bags stuffed with stuff you hadn’t planned on picking. That’s no accident: profitable retailers know precisely what they’re doing. They know how to use creative ways to get you to spend more money, often without your ever realizing it.
They may engage your senses in a clever way, change how prices are written, or shelves are arranged. However they do it, you face a sackful of sneaky stuff and mind manipulations the moment you step into a store. But, as with most tricks, if you know how it’s done, you can protect yourself- and your wallet. Here are a baker’s dozen of tricks used by these sellers of slick stuff.
Grouping Products for a Single Price
You might just want one or two cans of cat food, but when you see that the price is “6 for $5” there’s a decent chance you’ll up the ante to what’s on the tag. Many people buy the exact quantity increment that is advertised, rather than just the amount they needed. So, unless there is a substantial reduction for a bulk purchase and you have the ability to store and use the extras, buy only the number of packages you originally wanted to buy. While you’re at it, take a while to practice some mental math, so that when you see a sign that reads “Sale! 4 for $3”, you’ll know in a heartbeat that this is really 75¢ per can, and higher-priced than the cans in the next row that are 69¢ each but aren’t “on sale”.
Designing the Store Like a Maze
Just as casinos are intentionally designed to disorient and misdirect the novice gambler, supermarkets (and even mega-stores such as Ikea) are also laid out in a way to make it difficult to find a quick exit once you enter. There’s a reason the aisles run the full length of the store- with no breaks to let you move easily from one to the next: it requires you to spend more time in the store, and more time equates to more opportunity to amass a mass of merchandise than if you just got what you needed and left.
Sensory Overload is a Close Encounter of the First Kind
When you enter a grocery store, what do you encounter first? A coffee shop, bakery, produce shelves, or the flower shop, or all of them- right? The reason? All of these nifty things excite your senses and make it more likely that you’ll stick around. The sensory impact of all those scents, textures, and colors- think plump, red tomatoes; sweet donuts; luscious strawberries; golden apples; rosy, uh, roses- they makes us feel both upbeat and hungry. The store bakery is usually near the entrance, with its pervasive yeasty aroma of fresh-baked bread. The flower shop, with its buckets of bluebells, rows of roses, and gobs of greenery, also send the message- right off the bat- that the store is a welcoming place, fresh, fragrant, and healthy. Get over it and stick to your list!
Keeping Essentials in the Back
While you are likely to encounter many exciting sights and smells right in the front of a store, the things you actually need invariably require you to make your way all the way to the back of the store. (Think milk, eggs, bread, hamburger.) And in between you and your gotta-get items, are rows and rows of higher-profit, packaged goods and impulse items. Keep your focus very narrow as you swiftly pass through these rows to get to the things you really need, grab only them, and check-out!
Keeping the Most Popular Items in the Middle of the Aisles
The most popular items are usually stocked in the middle of the aisles, forcing shoppers to pass and be distracted by many other options as they walk to the popular items they want. This is sometimes called the “boomerang effect”. Whatever you may call it, it’s just a way to get shoppers to travel the longest distance possible- and to pass as many extra products as possible- to reach the most popular items which you likely have on your list. Focus only on what you really need.
Eye-Level Items are Higher Profit- Look UP (and Down) for Deals
Consumer research finds that shoppers start looking at a shelf at eye level, working from left to right as they decide on what they choose to buy. Retailers put the items with the highest perceived value, and/or the highest profit margins, on the shelf at eye level. Look at the very top and bottom shelves for better deals.
If you see a $60 toaster at a department store, you might think “gosh, that’s expensive”, but if it’s set next to a $120 toaster, you suddenly might start thinking that it’s a pretty good deal at half the cost of the other. Retailers call this strategy the “decoy effect”, using one model of a product to shape your perception of the other. Often, when a better model of an item is created and sold with the lower-priced original, sales of the original shoot up. The cure? Buy only the level of features and fancy froufrou that you need.
Rude Treatment at High-End Stores
Research has found that at upscale stores such as Tiffany’s, a little coldness from the sales staff can actual lead customers to spend more money. A snobby seller is often able to use “social pressure” to get unsure, wavering shoppers to feel compelled to buy the pricier product. So, be sure that your salesperson isn’t using being stuck-up as a reason for a price stick-up: judge your purchase on its merits only, and don’t pay for the attitude.
Encouraging Bulk Purchases
It turns out that when retailers add phrases such as “6 box limit per customer” to the price of- for example- mac and cheese dinners, sales jumped, giving shoppers the illusion they are getting a deal or that the price is lower than usual, even when there’s no discount offered. Be aware of the usual price for the items you buy regularly. Stock up only when it is a true discount and not just a come-on.
Handing Out Samples and Treats
It makes sense that a free sample of a tasty product might make you more likely to buy it. But it also turns out that freebies can boost your taste for nonfood products too. One study found that consuming free chocolate boosted shoppers’ longing for designer shirts to Mac laptops. It’s no surprise, then, that luxury- and even no-so-luxury shops- nowadays are starting to offer up all sorts treats to get shoppers in the mood for buying. So, feel free to eat the treat, but don’t let it sway your purchasing decision.
Making Carts Larger
The first things you find when you enter a store is often the shopping carts. Research shows that the bigger the carts, the bigger the purchases. Yup! The amount people buy is consistent with the dimensions of their cart, and that consumers spend up to 37 percent more when their cart is larger.
You may have found that you rarely look as good in an item of clothing at home as when trying it on in a fitting room. That’s not an accident since retailers often add a slight tint of rose in the lights in their dressing rooms. Butchers also do the same trick- using rose-colored lights- over their more expensive cuts of meat. So, quit looking at your purchases through rose-colored glasses, er, light bulbs. Move that meat or muumuu to an area away from the pink bulbs, check them out, and then make your decision!
Getting Touchy Feely
Whether it’s clothing, electronics, linens, or food packages, retailers usually make sure that products are well within reach- and, where possible- will even go so far as to encourage you to feel the product, especially if it’s made of fabric or other soft material. Studies have shown that people who touch things they are considering buying, are more likely to actually seal the deal and buy them.
There are plenty of other tricks including fake BOGO deals, loyalty programs, scented sprays, special theme music, dropping dollar signs, selling smaller packages, product shuffling, price hiding and many others. So, do your homework, stay alert, clip your coupons, eat before shopping, and stick to your lists!