I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop. Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy schmancy supermarket complete with shopping triggers of mood lighting, Starbucks, Panda Express and lots of comfy chairs.
I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end—to get me to spend more of my hard-earned money.
Take the “Three for $6!” special of the week. Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark? I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart.
Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.
That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more. Retailers hire experts like Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, and his company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person and on videotape, observing their every move.
Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more, and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and a lot more.
How important is consumer persuasion to the marketplace? “If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something,” Underhill to me in one of my favorite interviews of all time, “and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse. Boom.”
No one wants the economy to get any worse, but we don’t want to overspend either. So our defense as consumers is to educate ourselves. Here are 12 tricks to know about.
1. Trigger: Beautiful Ambience
Retailers know that as much as 70 percent of all purchases are unplanned! They want you to linger as long as possible, so they create an atmosphere that’s inviting to the store’s target audience. The music, the lighting, the displays are all designed to pull us in.
Outsmart it! Don’t browse. Just get in, get what you need and leave. True needs are not discovered while standing in a store aisle.
2. Trigger: Colored Walls
Stores use certain colors according to the audience they’re trying to reach: Younger people tend to like bold colors; older people prefer softer hues.
“Universally, a soft shade of blue creates a sense of calm, which makes people want to stay longer,” says Underhill. Meanwhile, most fast-food restaurants are decorated in vivid reds and oranges, which encourage us to eat quickly and leave—exactly what the fast-food operator wants us to do.
Outsmart it! Take note of a store’s colors, then smile knowingly. Just being aware of them helps you take control.