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We try to stick to our shopping lists. We keep an eye out for sales, clip coupons, study the store circulars, and even go so far as to leave the credit cards at home in order to avoid impulse buying. And yet, most shoppers end up buying more than they bargained for—and that's exactly what retailers want them to do.
"Every single detail of your shopping experience—the placement of every shelf, box, sign, and restroom; the background music; color of paint on the wall; words the staff use to greet you—is a precisely orchestrated merchant-customer dance designed to achieve maximum sales results," writes Dayana Yochim at the finance and investing site The Motley Fool.
Customers have figured out the end-cap trick—the one where stores feature higher-priced goods on the ends of the aisles, where they're easy to see, and fill the back and center of the store with the everyday items people really went there to buy. And we all know to ignore the "impulse purchases" placed near the cash registers. So retailers have redoubled their efforts.
Read on to see 10 ways retailers get us to spend more money.
1. Bigger shopping carts. Just as people tend to eat more if it's piled onto a larger plate, they're more likely to spend more trying to fill a bigger shopping cart. "We did an experiment with that, and we actually doubled the size of the shopping cart," marketing consultant Marin Lindstrom told MSNBC. "And you buy 40 percent more. In Whole Foods, the shopping carts over the last two years have doubled in size, almost."
2. The thrill of the hunt. One reason why big box and warehouse stores are so appealing is that you never know what kind of a bargain you might be able to bring home. "We refer to it as a treasure hunt," says Costco co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal. "We carry about 4,000 stock-keeping units, and about 1,000 of them are constantly in that changing mode. In the past, you may see that we have some Coach handbags. The next time you come in, the Coach handbags aren't there, but perhaps there are some Fila jackets. The attitude is that if you see it, you have got to buy it, because it may not be there next time."
3. Meeting (or making) price expectations. Retailers know that most people can't compare prices on every single item in a large store (though smartphone apps that allow you to scan bar codes have made that easier for savvy shoppers). So they drop the prices on a couple of popular items — and then raise the prices on other products. "So, if the eggs are cheaper than what you normally see, the milk ... is cheaper, and the toilet paper is cheaper, then you will actually think the whole supermarket is cheaper," Lindstrom said. "Then you can actually increase the price 10 percent on everything else, in principle."
4. Fake sales. People equate higher prices with better quality. So they're willing to pay more for an item (or buy more of an item) if they think they're getting a great deal. A $399.99 Kitchen Aid mixer that's been marked down from $499.99 seems like a better deal than a $349.99 Kitchen Aid mixer that's the same in every way except for the color (and the original price). A "10 for $10" deal at the grocery store seems like a better bargain than a "5 for $5" deal, because shoppers feel like they're getting more for their money, even though they're spending more than they bargained for. And if the sign says "4 for $10," shoppers are likely to buy four—even if they intended to buy only one, and even if the item isn't actually on sale.
5. Perceived added value. Grocery stores often group ingredients together, and leave handy recipe cards close by. It's a fine example of the power of suggestion; you were going to buy the avocados anyway, why not get all of the other things you need to make guacamole, since the recipe is right here? Manufactures often add the perception of value by redesigning products while reducing their size—that "New!" label may just be there to hide the fact that they're asking you to pay more for less product. And some retailers put their most-expensive merchandise right up front; once you get past it, prices on everything else in the store seem less expensive in comparison.
6. Triggering happy thoughts. High-end, high-priced goods are placed where you can see them as soon as you walk in the door, but retailers don't really expect you to put them in your (oversized) shopping cart. "All those tempting wares are there to trigger the pleasure center of our brain," Yochim points out. "In other words, we walk into Costco and the shopping high sets in before we've even put anything in our cart. It's a subtle psychological sales trick to lower our spending inhibitions and wine and dine us into reckless spending."
7. Letting you try things out in store. According to Women's Day, researchers say that touching a product makes you more likely to buy it. That's why so many stores place kid-friendly items near the entrances; it's also why clothing stores put tables stacked with soft sweaters or other touchable merchandise at hip level, rather than high up, and why more grocery stories leave out free samples for you to taste.
8. Changing the floor plan. You get your grocery shopping down to a science—you know which aisles to hit in which order to get the things you need and avoid the things you don't. And then, one day, you walk in and things have been rearranged. They're not merely upgrading the store—they're forcing you to spend more time in it, notice products you hadn't purchased before, and fill up that (larger) shopping cart.
9. Placing practical items in the checkout lanes. Notice how there's more than just candy and magazines at the checkout all of a sudden? Impulse items still exist, but they're being joined by a host of helpful "whoops-we-think-you-may-have-forgotten-something" items—things like DVDs, batteries, gift cards, lip balm, travel-size bottles of ibuprofen, pens, and other useful, practical things that probably weren't on your list—but that they hope you end up buying anyway.
10. Making it a sensory experience. High-end grocery stories mist water over the vegetables in the produce section, the smell of freshly baked goods waft out from the bakery, rotisserie chickens turn over a flame in plain near the deli counter. It's all designed to stimulate the senses and make you want to buy more. Non-food stores do it, too, ConsumerGuides.org points out, with customized music, pretty displays, and even comfy seating so you can take a break and spend more time in the store.
— Lylah M. Alphonse
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