It’s happened to all of us many, many times: we enter a store with a specific list of things to buy, and end up coming home with all kinds of stuff that, on further review, we really don’t or need. Not only does this create clutter in our homes, but it drains our budget.
Well, if this sounds like you, then guess what? Your unplanned — and unnecessary — shopping spree at Walmart, Target, Costco, or elsewhere probably wasn’t a spontaneous lapse. Instead, it was exactly what the legions of consumer psychologists that these stores hire had planned for you (what, did you think that all psychologists ask you to lie down on a couch and talk about your mother?).
Here are 10 things that stores do to make us buy more stuff than we want or need:
- They put giant banners and signs up that scream “SALE!”, which creates the impression that many items are reduced. In truth, usually only a small percentage of things are on sale.
- They instruct you to use their shopping carts instead of your own baskets or bags. This is not about theft prevention. It is because shopping carts are bigger, which means you’re like to add more stuff as you browse around.
- The put brightly colored items or foods (for grocery stores) at the front. This is to uplift mood. Studies have shown that shoppers who feel good buy more stuff than those who don’t.
- They put bakeries or perfume counters at the front, because scents work the same way as colors: they can put you in a better mood, so that you end up buying more.
- They put seasonal items and essential groceries at the back of the store, so that you have to walk past other stuff that they’re hoping you notice and buy.
- They regularly rotate stock in and out, so that you say to yourself “hey, I’d better buy this now because it might not be here next time”. Target is notorious for doing this!
- Generally, the music that stores play is slow and laid back, like easy listening, adult contemporary or classical. This is to slow you down and make you spend more time in the store than you planned. Faster music has been shown to speed people up as they shop.
- They put expensive items out front, which may seem like a mistake — but it’s not. It’s designed to make everything else inside the store look like a better deal, because it’s more affordable. For example, that $50 garden hose from Home Depot doesn’t seem like such a big purchase after you walk past a $500 lawn mower, does it?
- They put relatively inexpensive and easy-to-grab items near the checkout, to persuade you to toss it into your cart.
- They use awkward prices like $2.97 instead of $3, so that you think you’re getting a good deal. Walmart does this all the time!
The Bottom Line
There is nothing illegal about what stores to do try and get us to buy more. And so, the smartest way we can resist their manipulative tactics is to always shop with a list (and stick to it!), stay focused, and practice impulse control. If you come across something that you really think you need, then at least wait a few minutes and see how you feel. You’ll be surprised at how often you decide that you really don’t need it.
Heck, if you shop wisely for even a year or so you’ll probably save enough to go on a great family vacation, turn your bathroom into a spa, transform an old vehicle through classic car restoration, and anything else that YOU — not stores — want you to do!