5 Tricks Department Stores Use to Get You to Spend More

Every business has tricks of the trade: techniques to get you to spend more. But understanding those tricks will keep more money in your bank account rather than theirs.

Better Investing

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 have been carefully orchestrated to maximize sales.

Money Talks News has previously tackled the subject of grocery store tricks of the trade, and today we’ll check out something a bit more holiday-related: department stores.

Start with this video from Money Talks founder Stacy Johnson to see how retailers may be tricking you into spending more than you planned.

If you want to learn more and are up for some heavy reading, you could check out this 2001 report from Hong Kong 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 means laying out more cash

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 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. And the longer you’re in the store, the more purchase opportunities you can be presented with.

If it weren’t bad enough stores are using human nature to manipulate us, it seems to be only a matter of time before your smartphone turns against you too. UK company Path Intelligence has developed technology that will pick up signals coming from mobile devices and use those signals to track shopping patterns and help businesses improve their layout and sales.

Find the best price on everything you buy on our deals page!

2. “Racetrack” flooring for “pit stop” purchasing

The Hong Kong study makes mention of racetrack layouts that lead shoppers to walk around the store with little thought to where they are going or what they are looking for.

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.

I know you think I am making this up, but really, pay attention the next time you are in a department store and see if I’m right.

3. You’ll need a rest by the time you reach the restroom

Remember how I said nothing is left to chance when setting up a store’s configuration? That goes for the restrooms too.

Retailers aren’t necessarily trying to annoy you when they place their 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 really mean “for sale”

More Money Talks News!


  • Peggy Ender

    Kohls cash “makes” you think they expire. However, we have found out thru a recent experience that it is actually good for 1 (one) year. Just take them to the customer service counter instead of the checkout for verification.

    • Lorilu

      This is news to me. I have been refused the use of an expired Kohl’s cash, and it was only a week or so after the expiration date.

      • SeSe1018

        Lorilu…this is an old article and the response that you replied to was from a year ago. However, what Peggy Ender stated was correct until a few months ago. It may have been a little known secret, but most stores honored the request if you asked. Unfortunately, people abused the generosity of Kohl’s & tried to cheat the system with the expired “Cash”, so the policy has been permanently discontinued. You know what they say about a few bad apples…

  • Sharon J

    My all time retail annoyance is buy 1 at regular price get the second for 50%off. BIG DEAL

    • Malcom Treadway

      It’s called 25% off. That game has been played with tire retailers for eons: Buy 3 and get the 4th one free. Same game.

    • http://www.thebrokelife.org thebrokelife

      B1G1 50% drives me crazy, too!

    • Sean Cammack

      I hear you on that. According to CNBC, fierce compition at supermarkets most regular prices goods are marketed up 15-25%, therefore the store is not making an money on the buy one get one at 50% off. It is known as a lose leader. The store does this hoping you will buy more.

      A buy one get one free means the product is really 50%. This happens because the manufacture and the grocery store chain have each agreed to discount the product 25% each. This makes the total savings (25% +25%) equal 50%.

      Therefore if the product is something you use often it is usuallt worth it to stock because you are paying wholesale (25% off) or half of wholesale (50% off). One exception, and there are others is other stores may have better prices, and may offer the same deal at some point. This takes time and effort though. You must decide what your time is worth before pursuing this option.

  • Malcom Treadway

    Uncarpeted center aisle to “funnel’ one in? Perhaps, but I would’ve thought it had a more practical aspect: saving wear and tear on carpeting in a high traffic area, and the need to replace, rather than wax and buff tile.

  • NoCellPhones

    Wow, I just went over my shopping habits. I guess I’m not typical. When I shop for groceries, at Target, or J.C. Penney’s, I go to the left first, never right. (I’m not left-handed either.) Sometimes, as I get into the store, I’ll ask a sales rep. where the item I need is so I can avoid wasting time. When I went to Ikea for the first time with a friend, I was miserable. We were there for 5 hours because the store is designed so you couldn’t leave quickly. I’ll never go back. I bought maybe $9. worth of stuff after 5 hours. I usually ask myself if it’s a “need” or a “want” and if it’s a “want”, I wait before I make the purchase. When I grocery shop, I look at the top & bottom shelves for the less expensive items, and if they’re out of what I want, I wait until they get it in or, in the case of coffee, when the store was out for awhile, I ordered it on-line in bulk from the manufacturer and saved a ton of $$ because the shipping was free. I rarely buy stuff because of a rebate.

    • ModernMode

      Couldn’t agree more about Ikea. I never went back either. Heaven forbid there’s ever a fire in one. It reminds me of a Disney attraction where you can only go one direction.

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,717 more deals!