Every business uses techniques to get you to spend more. But understanding those tricks can help you keep more money in your bank account.
We all know retailers use marketing tricks to get us to buy more. Everything from the music on the intercom to the scents in the air has been carefully orchestrated to maximize sales.
If you want to learn more and are up for some heavy reading, you could check out this 2001 report from a City University of Hong Kong researcher detailing how store environments impact shopping behaviors.
Otherwise, we’ll make it easy for you: Here are five ways department stores convince you to blow your budget.
1. Store layout
When it comes to a store’s layout, nothing is left to chance.
At the mall, for example, the most appealing items may be placed front and center at the entrance to convince you to walk in.
Then, on your right, you’ll find some of the most profitable items in the store. For whatever reason, we are programmed to veer right when entering, and stores want the next thing we see to be something profitable.
Of course, clearance racks will be in the very back so you need to pass everything else before you can reach the discounted merchandise. As a bonus, the long walk keeps you in the store longer.
2. ‘Racetrack’ flooring
The Hong Kong study mentions racetrack layouts that lead shoppers to walk around the store with little thought to where they are going.
That’s essentially the purpose of the smooth linoleum floor in department stores, with carpet off to the sides. You enter the store and — vroom, vroom — you’re on the track. Maybe what you need isn’t far inside but by golly, you are going to follow that walkway all the way around the store.
When you see something interesting, you are going to step off the racetrack and onto the carpeted floor and then suddenly feel calm, relaxed … like maybe you’ll just want to stand there for a while and see what else is available on the nearby racks.
Don’t let racetrack flooring push you into a “pit-stop purchase.”
3. Restroom placement
Retailers aren’t necessarily trying to annoy you when they place restrooms all the way in the back of the store. But they are hoping you will happen to see some must-have item on your way there or back.
Again, the longer you’re in the store, the better they like it.
4. Signs that imply ‘sale’ but don’t mean it
The big sign by the sweaters may announce “2 for $50,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a sale price. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing sale signs on racks that we automatically assume any price prominently displayed must be a special.
Retailers exploit this by advertising everyday prices. Nothing illegal — or unethical — about that. Businesses are generally free to promote their regular prices in the same way they do sales. But now you know to double-check the original price to ensure you are actually getting a deal.
While we are on the topic of signs and pricing, let’s talk about that “2 for $50” sign for a moment. Stores use this pricing model because they would much rather sell you two sweaters than one. However, unless the sign specifically says so, you can typically buy just one item to get the advertised pricing — in this case, a sweater for $25.
5. Promotions they know you won’t redeem
Manufacturers and retailers love rebates because they make merchandise appear inexpensive, yet many consumers never get around to collecting their rebate.
Rebates aren’t the only game in town. Retailers roll out awesome promos that make you feel as though you are practically stealing their merchandise.
The catch is that many of the promos require a second purchase. You might get $10 in department-store “cash” for every $50 you spend, but the store knows a significant portion of people lose the certificate or forget to use it before the expiration date.
Meanwhile, the store has convinced you to find $50 worth of items to buy when you really only needed to spend $30.
3 ways to fight retailers’ sneaky tricks
Most of these tricks work because we shop on autopilot. We walk into a store with the vague idea we need to get Aunt Sally a gift, and soon these techniques are working their nefarious magic.
To avoid falling victim to such tactics, keep on task by following these tips:
- Shop the ads beforehand and make a list. Know exactly what you need before you enter the store. Don’t write down “gift for Aunt Sally”; decide in advance whether that will be a sweater, a Christmas ornament or something else.
- When you enter the store, make a beeline for the first item on your list. If you don’t know where it is, stop the first associate you see and ask rather than wandering the store.
- Don’t let promotions sucker you. If you find yourself scavenging racks for something you “need” so you can qualify for the current store promo, realize you are playing right into the store’s plan.
Your goal should be to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible with as much money in your wallet as possible. In the event you do go a little crazy, hopefully it is in the store of one of these retailers that have great return policies.
How do you keep from overspending? Share your tips in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.