Beware These 10 Retail Sales Tricks That Get You to Spend More

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Think you're a savvy shopper? You may be playing right into retailers' hands. Find out which sales tactics you likely fall for again and again.

Every time you walk into the mall, the grocery store or a big box retailer, remember it’s you against them.

Retailers, marketers, sales professionals and CEOs are determined to make you buy more than you planned. In addition, retailers have an arsenal of sales tactics that may seem silly but serve as heavy-duty artillery when it comes to persuading you to part ways with your money.

Following are 10 especially cagey tricks they may use.

1. Free-shipping offers

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Shopping online is so convenient, but paying for shipping is a real drag. Beyond that, it can be downright expensive at some stores.

Web retailers know that many of us have an aversion to paying shipping costs, so they often offer free-shipping deals. However, these may come with a catch: You have to spend $30, $50, $100 or some other amount to get the free shipping.

How many people have spent precious time searching for extra items to add to their order to reach the amount needed for free shipping? I’ll raise my hand and admit to spending an ungodly amount of time looking for a $15 item (that I really didn’t need) to add to my $35 purchase in order to get free shipping. In hindsight, I should have stuck with my $35 buy, paid the $5 in shipping and come out $10 ahead.

2. Multiple purchase pricing

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My go-to grocery store loves to run a 10-for-$10 promotion. Not only are the sale items a mere dollar each, you also get the 11th item free. There are often at least a dozen products included in the sale, and you can mix and match items! How cool is that?

It’s awesomely cool for the grocery store when we load up on 11 items we don’t need. It’s even better when those items regularly sell for $1.09 anyway.

I’m not saying multiple purchase pricing is always bad. It’s just that when we see four-for-$5 sales, we tend to buy four items even if we only need one.

3. BOGO, B1G2 and B2G1 deals

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BOGOs — buy-one-get-one-free sales — work similarly to multiple purchase pricing. They entice you to buy more than you normally would.

Now, if you’re already planning to make a purchase and a second one is free, by all means, take the freebie. But if you find yourself suddenly justifying the purchase of unneeded new shoes because of a BOGO ad, the marketers can pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

B1G2 and B2G1 deals involve, respectively, buying one item and getting two free, or buying two items and getting one free. There is also another common variation that involves buying one item and getting the second for half off.

4. Bundled purchases

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Another silly way retailers persuade us to buy more is by bundling purchases. So as part of a special sales bundle, for example, you might get a printer and office software along with a laptop. If you need a printer and software, this could be a cheaper option than buying all three separately.

However, you might have a perfectly good printer at home, and maybe you only plan to use the laptop for Facebook and World of Warcraft. I could be wrong, but I don’t think you need Microsoft Excel for either of those things.

Why wouldn’t you want to buy $1,200 worth of computer gear for only $900? Because if all you need is a $700 laptop, you’re $200 poorer for no good reason.

5. Coupon savings


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I love coupons, so I can’t advise you never to use them. That said, coupons have a sneaky way of making you buy items you would never purchase at full price, or even sale price.

Bottom line: Coupons make it feel like you’re getting a deal even if you aren’t. Double-check and make sure the after-coupon price is in fact a bargain.

If you’re looking for a break on a specific item, check out sites like Again, just be clear-headed about whether the deal on the coupon is really a bargain.

6. Sales events

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The fact that a store declares a sale to be phenomenal does not necessarily mean that it is a great deal. In fact, you could walk into a store that has announced sale prices “as much as 70 percent off” and find everything minus one lonely rack is only 20 percent off.

It’s not false advertising either; the ad clearly includes the qualifier “as much as.”

Remain skeptical of sale claims and don’t get caught up in the hype of a supposed once-in-a-lifetime deal. Trust me, there will always be another deal.

7. Rewards programs and loyalty cards

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Rewards programs are how retailers get you to keep coming back to their store when you have other options.

Maybe there is a better sale at Kohl’s, but you have a Shop Your Way rewards card so you don’t even bother checking Kohl’s. You head straight for Sears instead.

It works the same way if you have a loyalty card for a gas station, grocery store, coffee shop or hotel chain. You stop comparison shopping and simply go to the business offering the rewards. That’s good for them, but it could be costly for you.

8. Psychological pricing

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You would think by now we would be savvy enough not to be tricked by seeing the number 9 at the end of a price. And yet, we continue to think something priced $19.99 is a better deal than an item priced $20.

Known as charm pricing, ending sales tags with a “9” is only one way businesses use psychological pricing to their advantage. They may also trick you into spending more by dropping the dollar sign, putting a per-customer limit on sales and using a small font.

Who knew we could be so easily manipulated by a price tag?

9. Upselling everything

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Whenever you’re asked whether you want an extra shot of espresso with your coffee or a bucket rather than a bag of popcorn at the theater, you’re being upsold.

In fact, even the language they use is finely tuned to maximize your chances of saying yes. When I worked as a mystery shopper, one specific chain required its workers not to ask, “Do you want anything else?” Instead, they were told specifically to ask, “What else would you like?”

By using those words, they created the expectation that you would in fact buy more.

10. Point-of-sale add-ons


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The final seemingly silly sales tactic that drains our wallets is the point-of-sale add-on. These are all the gum and candy displays by the register and the nice sales clerk who asks if we’d like to save 25 percent by opening a store credit card.

At a gas station in my town, the sales clerks are rather shameless about promoting the monthly candy deal, informing customers that they are competing for who can sell the most. That tidbit is followed by an appeal to help the worker out by making a purchase.

The only thing missing is some slight whimpering and big puppy dog eyes. I’m sure some heartless folks can say no to this plea for help, but it gets me every time.

Did we cover them all? Do you find yourself falling for one tactic over and over again? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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