10 Ways Retailers Trick You Into Spending More

Every time you walk into a mall, grocery store or 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

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.

We’ve all spent precious time searching for extra items to add to our order to reach the amount needed for free shipping. Sometimes it makes sense to complete your $35 purchase and pay the $5 in shipping, rather than paying $15 or $20 for something you don’t need simply to get gratis delivery.

Looking for better ways to get free shipping? Check out “5 Ways to Land Free Shipping When Shopping Online.”

2. Multiple-purchase pricing

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.

It’s awesome 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.

For more ways to avoid wasting money at the grocery store, check out:

3. BOGO deals

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

If you’re already planning to purchase the second item, take the freebie. But if you justify the purchase of unneeded new shoes because of a BOGO ad, the marketers can pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

4. Bundled purchases

Another silly way retailers persuade us to buy more is by bundling purchases. So, as part of a special sales bundle, 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

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 at 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 Coupons.com. Again, just be clear-headed about whether the deal on the coupon is really a bargain.

For more tips on getting great coupons, check out “7 Places to Find Free Manufacturer Coupons Online.”

6. Sales events

The fact that a store declares a sale to be phenomenal does not necessarily mean that it is. You could walk into a store that has announced sale prices “as much as 70% off” and discover that everything except for one lonely rack is only 20% off.

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

So, remain skeptical of sale claims, and don’t get caught up in the hype of a supposed once-in-a-lifetime deal.

7. Rewards programs and loyalty cards

Rewards programs are how retailers keep you 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 specific 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

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 at $19.99 is a better deal than an item priced at $20.

Known as “charm pricing,” ending sales tag prices 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 type font.

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

9. Upselling everything

Whenever you’re asked whether you want an extra shot of espresso in your latte — 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 buy more.

10. Point-of-sale add-ons

The point-of-sale add-on is the final seemingly silly sales tactic that drains our wallets. 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% 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.

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