6 Subtle Ways Retailers Trick You Into Spending More


As though you don’t have a hard enough time spending less money, retailers fill their store with tactics meant to make you spend more.

Before your next shopping trip — to buy anything from gifts to groceries — familiarize yourself with common retailer tricks, as well as tips for resisting them.

1. Retailers play on your senses

What’s the store’s mood when you walk through the door? Colorful? Fragrant? Filled with the soothing sounds of relaxing music? If it puts you in a good mood, it’s with good reason. The better your feel inside a store, the better you’ll feel about the store’s products.

Tip to spend less: Make a habit of noting how the store makes you feel as soon as you enter. The more aware you are of how the environment is making you feel, the less likely it is that you’ll attribute those good vibes to the merchandise.

2. The staff is overly friendly or overly rude

In clothing stores in particular, we all know what it’s like to be greeted (or ignored) by sales staff when you walk through the door. When staff is warm and inviting, it can feel like you’re talking to an old friend; someone who knows what you want, and knows what looks good on you.

But confusingly, snobby staff can boost sales, too. The ruder salespeople are, the more you want to win them over. To prove that you belong, you might purchase something you don’t really need just to make a point.

Tip to spend less: Remember that retail workers are neither friends nor enemies. They are salespeople doing a job. They’re not your friends, and it doesn’t matter what they think.

3. Stores are organized for optimal spending, not ease of navigation

How often do you walk into a store and feel like you can’t find anything you’re looking for? It’s not that they’ve done a poor job organizing — it’s by design. The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you are to spend more money.

Common organizational tactics include:

  • Greeting you with a display of lower-priced items at the entrance, aiming to immediately break any resistance you have to buying things that aren’t on your list.
  • Displaying higher-priced items at eye-level in hopes you won’t look higher or lower for a better deal.
  • Making sale items hard to find and putting clearance racks at the back of the store so you can stumble across higher-priced items before you get there.
  • Changing the layout of the store to make everything hard to find, forcing you to walk the entire store and discover things you don’t normally see or buy.
  • Displaying impulse buys at the checkout line.

Tips to spend less: Bring a list and stick to it. Look at eye-level shelves last, and spend your time in the checkout line doing what comes naturally (and free) — looking at your phone.

4. They create the illusion of a good deal

As committed as you are to sticking to your list, a good deal can be too tempting to pass up. It doesn’t help that retailers go to great lengths to create the impression of a better deal than you’re really getting. Some of these tricks include:

  • Pricing products one cent under a whole dollar amount (say, $9.99 as opposed to $10) creates the illusion that you’re spending a lot less for something than you really are. It’s only a penny difference, but it sure feels like a lot more.
  • Making bulk buy offers that would cost the same whether you buy the advertised amount or not. For instance, you may not have to buy 10 items for $10 — you could pay a dollar for just one.
  • Displaying a high-priced item next to an even higher-priced item, creating the illusion that buying the cheaper of the two means you’re getting a good deal.
  • Using a “limited time” offer to create a sense of urgency.
  • Limiting the number of items you can buy, creating the illusion that inventory is limited so you better stock up.

Tips to spend less: At the grocery store, compare products by the price per unit (which is listed on the tag). This will tell you which one is really the best deal. For high-dollar items, compare deals online before you walk into a store — you’ll know beforehand whether it’s a good deal or not.

5. Stores give away free samples

Yes, giving away free samples is a good way for retailers to introduce you to new products — but it’s also a good way to guilt you into buying them.

You might feel bad every time you walk away from the person handing out samples, like you’re hurting their feelings or jeopardizing their job. But don’t be fooled: They don’t care if you buy the product or not.

Tip to spend less: Shop on a full stomach to avoid the temptation of food samples. For samples of perfume, lotion, or similar items, a simple “Thanks, but no thanks” will do. You can’t feel guilty if you don’t try the product in the first place!

6. They offer free shipping with a minimum purchase

How many times have you bought more than you planned from an online retailer just so you could take advantage of the free shipping offer? While it can be a good way to get a good deal, you can also end up buying more than you need.

Do the math and make sure you’re coming out ahead. It never makes sense to buy an unnecessary $20 item to save $5 on shipping.

Tip to spend less: Don’t make the purchase right away. Keep everything in your shopping cart and revisit it 24 hours later to see if you change your mind.

Resisting every retailer trick won’t always be easy. In fact, you’ll fail miserably sometimes — and that’s okay. Save your receipts and return items later if you decide you really don’t need them.

What matters most is educating yourself about what’s really influencing your purchase decisions. It’s not always a reflection of how disciplined you are about sticking to a budget. It’s also all of these strategies retailers have been perfecting for decades.

But one thing is certain: The more informed of a shopper you are, the less money you’ll spend over time.

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