Beware: 7 retailer tricks that make you spend more
From jumbo carts to the price tag font sizes, you're being played
find yourself saddled with bags full of stuff you didn't mean to buy when
shopping, it helps to look at why you overspent. You may be succumbing to merchandising tricks carefully designed to coax you into spending more than you intended. And as
we gear up for holiday shopping, it helps to be savvy to these subtle cues.
you walk into a retail store, there are a million ways that a store is trying
to influence you," says Keith Coulter, a professor of marketing at Clark
colorful displays to the holiday music playing in the background, a lot of
research has gone on behind the scenes to nudge you into buying products that aren't
on your list.
a lot of thought given to how people make a decision," says Paul Kuzma, head
of innovation at Tris3ct, a retail specialist agency in Chicago. The smartest
retailers know the environment you shop in -- and the products you encounter --
can subtly influence the choices you make.
you're trying to rein in your spending or keep on budget, experts recommend you
watch for telltale signs of retailers' alluring tricks. Here
are some of the most common:
1. They tempt you with jumbo-size
thing most stores will do is they'll encourage the use of the shopping
cart," says Ross Steinman, a professor of psychology at Widener
University. "The larger the cart, probably the better."
tend to stop when their cart is full," says Steinman. "So if it's a
smaller cart, it fills up quicker. If it's a larger cart, it's going to take
longer to fill up and there's more opportunity for purchases."
Tip: Skip the cart altogether, says
money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. "Just use a handbasket" instead, she
says. "I do that all the time. It limits how much I can put in
2. They seduce your senses.
not a coincidence that most supermarkets, when you first walk in, you're
walking through the floral department," says Steinman. "They look nice.
They smell nice. It's a transition zone."
stores also use additional sensory cues, such as soft lighting, music and scent
to influence how you feel when you're walking through the aisles. For example,
"lavender is a popular scent," says Steinman. "It's shown to be relaxing and
the smell of leather is thought to encourage you to buy pricey furniture,
according to the Scent Marketing Institute, while the smell of citrus is
thought to increase sales and encourage you to linger in an aisle.
thing most stores will do is they'll encourage the use of the shopping
tend to stop when their cart is full. If it's a larger cart, it's going to take
longer to fill up and there's more opportunity for purchases.
Widener University psychology professor
Tip: Take note of the extra sensory
cues that are influencing how you feel about a particular item, says Philip
Graves, author of the book "Consumer.ology." That way, you're less likely to be
influenced by them. "We're contextual creatures," says Graves. If it
smells particularly good inside the store, for example, you may look at the product
in a rosier light than you otherwise would, he says. However, "if you take a
moment to smell what the environment is like, when you look at the product,
you'll look at the product in isolation."
3. They engineer which products
you see first.
scan a cereal aisle, you may have noticed the priciest cereals are at eye level
while the bargain bags are at the bottom. That's a tactic many stores use, say
"The eye-level space is more expensive," says Steinman. If
you're more interested in the bargain goods, you'll have to crane or bend over to seek those items out.
Some stores will also stack items of varying prices together in
order to make a middle-priced item look more attractive, says Michael McCall, a professor of
marketing at Ithaca College. For example, a store may display three different
wines, including a $40 bottle and a $12 bottle. "If I'm a really smart
retailer, then I'm going to put a $27 bottle in the middle," says McCall. "Suddenly
that one doesn't look bad."
Tip: Don't just grab the first item you
see displayed, says Woroch. Take the time to compare different items in the
same category so you know which one is a better deal.
4. They invite you to
tactic retailers sometimes use to increase sales is to periodically change the store
layout, says Steinman. That way, you're more likely to bump into something new.
also frequently pair complementary items together on separate displays in order
to trigger new ideas, he says. "Consumers really like stories," says Steinman.
So one way to satisfy that is to pair products that tell a story about what you
can do with them. For example, if you see cupcakes paired with frosting and disposable
plates on a grocery stor end cap, you may think, "Hey, if I make these
cupcakes, my kids are going to love it. It's going to be a great experience
together and that's worth more than the price of the object," says
Steinman. "That storytelling leads to additional purchases people may not have
stores also frequently place cues throughout a store suggesting how much fun
you'll have when make a purchase. For example, when you buy an iPhone or iPad, the
store will lead you to believe "you're not just
buying a device. You're buying something that will enable you to share memories
with your loved ones," says Steinman.
Tip: "It's always
better to go in with a list," he says. That way, you're less likely to be
tempted by impulse purchases.
5. They lure you with bargains.
retailers heavily discount items just to get you in the store, says Woroch. "They know they can capture more sales once you walk
through those doors," she says, so they don't mind losing money on certain products.
Retailers may also try to push you toward a more expensive item
once you're there, says McCall, so be prepared. "The idea is they bring you in on a sale price
and then seek to trade you up," he says.
something doesn't feel right in the pit of your stomach, listen. Just because everybody else has bought it, doesn't mean you should.
Ithaca College marketing professor
common tactic is to offer 2-for-1 or 10-for-$10 deals, says Woroch, because "we automatically feel there is a better value when
multiple products are involved."
addition, retailers will bundle items together to make it appear as if you're
getting a good deal. "But they often don't discount them much at all," says
Graves. "People will just buy the pack of 24 rather than the individual
one because they assume that it's cheaper and they don't have time to stop and
check every item."
Tip: Do the math. "It's important to
understand how the offer is applied," says Woroch. "Often those multiple deals
are suggestive. They want you to buy 10." But you don't necessarily have
to in order to get the deal. Similarly, be wary of bulk purchases. "Sometimes
it's actually cheaper to buy the individual item than in the bulk," says
6. They fiddle with prices.
shows that small changes in the way a price is displayed can make a significant
difference in how it is perceived. For example, Clark University Professor
Keith Coulter found that if two horizontal numbers are placed far apart, the
discount between the items seems greater than if they're placed closer
together. Similarly, if a sales price is displayed in smaller font than an
item's regular price, Coulter found that the sales price seems more affordable
than if it was displayed in larger font. "The economic value hasn't
changed. All you've done is manipulated these perceptual cues," says
displays are often tinkered with in order to boost sales. For example, a common
strategy is to use .99 at the end of a price in order to make it seem cheaper
than it actually is. "Using ,99 endings has been around for 100
years," says Coulter. "The idea is that consumers process numbers
from left to right. If they see a number like $15.99, they're going to process
that as 15 rather than 16."
retailers and manufacturers use is to mention an earlier, much higher price in
order to make the current price seem like a bargain, says Graves. For example,
a retailer might say, "Was $25, Now $11."
as consumers are very susceptible to that because we interpret the $11 in
reference to the $25 rather than what we should do, which is appraise the value
of the product," he says.
Tip: Evaluate a potential
purchase based on how much you think it's worth (try using a price comparison
smartphone app, such as Amazon's Price
Check App), rather than on how much a retailer tells you it used to be
7. They fake popularity.
may promote a product as being in high demand by commenting on how many have
been sold or warning you that it's almost sold out, says McCall.
addition, they will try to increase sales by limiting the number available, he
says. "If you limit access or opportunities, then the perceived value goes
up dramatically," says McCall. "It's all predicated on the notion
that if I don't get it now, it's gone forever."
something doesn't feel right in the pit of your stomach, listen," says McCall.
"Just because everybody else has bought it, doesn't mean you should."
Look before you buy. The next time you enter a store, take a
moment to notice your environment and scan the store for different ways it
could be tempting you into purchases you didn't plan to make. "That makes it less likely
that you'll be influenced unconsciously by those things when you're making
purchases," says Graves.
also a good idea to create a list and a budget ahead of time, he says. "The
most powerful thing a shopper can do is to go with a predetermined sense of
what they're going to buy and a budget." If you occasionally slip, don't
worry. "The reality is that we're more impulsive creatures than that,"
says Graves. "We do tend to enjoy going into these types of environments
and being influenced."
See related: Do credit card rewards make people spend more?
, 3 ways to curb pre-holiday money stress
Published: November 5, 2013