5 Tricks Department Stores Use to Get You to Spend More

Every business uses techniques to get you to part with your hard-earned cash. Understanding those tricks can help you keep more money in your wallet.

Retailers dip into an endless bag of 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.

It’s awfully tough to resist this siren song. But knowing how you are being manipulated is half the battle. 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.

For example, at the mall, 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

A 2001 report from a City University of Hong Kong researcher detailing how store environments impact shopping behaviors spotlights “racetrack” layouts. Such flooring leads 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 and relaxed. 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 in the back of the store. Instead, they are hoping you will see some must-have item on your way there or back.

Again, the longer you’re in the store, the better the retailer likes 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. Unfortunately, we’ve become accustomed to seeing sale signs on racks and automatically assume any price prominently displayed must be a special.

So, 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, one sweater for $25.

5. Promotions you won’t redeem

Manufacturers and retailers love rebates. They make merchandise appear inexpensive, yet many consumers never get around to collecting their rebate.

Retailers also roll out other 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.

For example, you might get $10 in department-store “cash” for every $50 you spend. 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:

  1. Shop the ads beforehand and make a list. Know exactly what you need before you enter the store. Don’t just write down “gift for Aunt Sally” — decide in advance whether that will be a sweater or something else.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. And if you do happen to go a little crazy with the spending, let’s hope it is at one of these retailers that have great return policies.

How do you keep from overspending? Share your tips in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Maryalene LaPonsie
Maryalene LaPonsie
After 13 years as a staffer for a Michigan legislator, I decided it was time to quit the commute and work from home instead. For the past three years, I’ve been penning ... More

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