How Do Stores Get You To Spend More Money?

It’s not in your head; stores are designed to make you buy more products!

Have you ever entered a grocery store to buy some milk but ended up with a bag full of items you didn’t even need? You’re not alone if you feel guilty for spending more money than you intended. It’s not our fault that we keep putting items in our shopping carts; we are manipulated to do so! To make sure you buy more, retailers will go all the way to carefully engineer every aspect of their store.

Here is a look at some of the most common tricks stores use to keep you filling up your cart:

Trick 1: Slowing down store traffic

One of the ways stores get customers to spend more money is to get them to stay inside the store premises for a longer period of time. The process of slowing down the customer starts right as they enter the store.

Creating a transition zone

A common feature you must have noticed in many retail stores is the transition zone right at the entry point. Its purpose is to get you in the mood to shop. Stores don’t want you to make a quick in-and-out shopping trip; they want to separate you from the outside world and orient you into the shop’s look and feel.

Some examples of a transition zone include welcome mats, a blast of the air conditioning or the placement of shopping carts. Some bigger stores even have two sets of doors so that customers have time to acclimate to the change in surroundings before they enter the store.

Making aisles smaller

To slow down customers’ shopping pace, stores make the aisles very narrow. It forces people to spend more time looking at the products on display inside each aisle and make room for others who might be passing by.

Not placing the most bought items together

Stores also place popular, essential items, like milk, meat and cheese, in different corners of the store so that you have to go around each and every aisle to find what you’re looking for. If you think you can counter this by remembering where these items are, I have bad news for you. Stores also shuffle the order of these items from time to time to expose you to more products.

Trick 2: Sales and discounts

Another tactic that stores use is to entice customers with sales and discounts. Buying items on sale makes us think we are saving money, but it usually does the opposite when we end up buying more than we intended.

Giving customers the thrill of a hunt

Many stores put all on-sale items inside giant open bins to encourage customers to look through every item in the bin to find good deals. They also put up signs, like “for a limited time only”, to incentivize customers to act now and buy the product immediately. This makes you buy more items than you have on your shopping list and invariably spend more money.

Combining sales with holidays

Holidays are always the season of sales. The reason is simple—the holiday spirit tends to put people in a better mood, and a better mood encourages us to open our wallets. During the holidays, people have more time to spend in stores and might even be flushed with cash from holiday bonuses. Besides, people are usually looking for presents during the holiday season. So, even if we are unsure if we need these on-sale items, we can send them to our family and friends as gifts. Either way, we fool ourselves into thinking we have saved some pennies.

Buy one, get one free (BOGOF) offers

Whenever we see BOGOF deals, we often focus on the “get one free” part. Rarely do we realize that the cost of the “free” product is also factored into the BOGOF deal. For instance, a US$20 t-shirt can be marked up to US$40 under a BOGOF deal.

We tend to overestimate the value of the items under BOGOF offers without considering whether we need the “free” product. For instance, suppose you see a BOGOF deal on a gallon of milk. If you don’t have enough people in your family to finish two gallons of milk, getting the second one for free isn’t of any utility to you.

Trick 3: Creating the shopping mood

How much you shop has a lot to do with your mood. Knowing this, retailers also try to influence your sense of sight, sound and smell to make you buy more.

Colorful appearance

Stores are designed to attract you even before you step inside. They use a punch of bright colors to separate themselves from other neighboring shops. An example is how every Walmart has the same blue tone, and every Target has a red exterior. These color schemes tell you what to expect before entering the store. For instance, Walmart’s blue is supposed to signal trust and security.

Once you are in, retailers display bright and colorful products, particularly flowers and produce, right at the entryway to put you in a happier mood. The happier you are, the more inclined you are to spend money.

Enjoyable music

These days most retailers play music to make the shopping experience more enjoyable for their customers. For instance, some stores play calming music to slow your pace at the store. Others, like a sporting goods store, play peppy music that makes you feel more energetic, putting you in the mood to be active and buy more sporting goods.

Alluring smells

Like color and sound, smells can trigger a customer’s impulse to buy a product. Smelling freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies at the store’s bakery can put you in the mood to grab some for you and your family. Similarly, smelling tropical perfume close to a swimsuit display could motivate you to buy a new bikini for your next beach vacation.

Buy what you need

There are many ways to help you outsmart these tricks. For instance, you can use a basket instead of a cart to carry fewer items, check the lower shelves for cheaper products, wear headphones to block out store music and shop with a full stomach.

However, the root cause for us buying more than we require is that we cannot distinguish between needs and desires. Hence, to beat all these tricks once and for all, go into the store with a list of items you need and stick to it. If something else appeals to you when you’re there, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Will I need this after some time?
  • Am I willing to give up something else to buy this to stay within budget?
  • Am I trying to buy this to fill my emotional need?

After all, while all these tricks can make products seem more appealing, the ultimate choice of buying something rests in our hands.

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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