Tricks Retailers Use to Get Us to Spend More

Who knew that the male brain is hot-wired to believe if a price tag is printed in red, it’s a bargain–even if when that items not on sale and it’s just the regular price? I didn’t, but I don’t doubt the Oxford University study that found men most often believe that if the tag is printed in red they are saving twice as much as when the very same price tag is displayed in black and white. 


That red tag thing isn’t the only game that retailers play to boost their profit margins Every year the retail industry spends gazillions of dollars to learn how our human minds work and then use that information to trick us into spending more.

Take a store’s floor coverings for example. Smooth floors guide you in, carpet makes you more likely to slow down and browse. And the deeper the carpet’s pile, the longer you’ll linger. Next time you’re in a supermarket, pay attention to the flooring. See those large floor tiles in the open areas, but smaller ones in front of the pricey seafood and meat counters? That’s by design. As your roll your cart over the small tile, the wheels click more often fooling you into walking more slowly. 

Check out that area just inside the front door. See the beautiful fresh flowers, perhaps today’s newspaper, flanking some of today’s sale items? That’s by design to coax you through the door. Once in, you become much more likely to spend some money.

Piped in music can have a huge impact on sales. One researcher reports that when French and German music is placed in a supermarket wine aisle, sales of French and German wines increase respectively. Retailers know that shoppers appeal to the music they grew up with. When you hear the music you grew up with as a teen, you’re much more likely to buy. Expect to hear more romantic music in a beauty department while it will be frenzied, high-energy tracks in a young fashion store.

Unsuspecting customers are easily lured in by common scents. Bakeries rely heavily on powerful aromas to make shoppers feel hungry. 

Piles of merchandise all jumbled up and messy sends a signal of “clearance” and rock-bottom prices. Neat piles and displays suggest no one has been looking so there can’t be any bargains in there.

End aisles in supermarkets represent the best real estate in the store because this area is seen by shoppers to be packed with too-good-to-refuse special offers. Regardless what the signs say, the aisle ends are seen by most shoppers are killer bargains. And when one shopper sees another shopper pause and pile the promotions into his or her cart, that seals the deal. 

So, does all of this mean we should stop shopping because every store has some kind of gotcha’! trap set to get us? Not at all. In fact, the more you know about how retailers attempt to trick customers into spending beyond what they’d planned before going in, the more savvy you’ll become. And why not? After all, it really is a game. And getting a peek into your opponent’s playbook can only improve your odds of coming out a winner!

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3 replies
  1. Richard R. says:

    To be wiser at this game I use a shopping list and very rarely deviate. Since I recently lost my wife of 56 years, I do not want a lot of stuff I will never use up.

  2. Emjay says:

    How ’bout this…one local market has placed a forest of cardboard displays in every aisle, and the actual market has no central path through to the groceries, One has to thread the way through a series of stanchions with all types of displays first. I try not to patronize this place much. It’s hard to shop there, but it’s plain that the marketer has a “see it, want it” motto for its shoppers.

    • IdiocyAbounds says:

      Wow. While i firmly believe in and understand the need for marketing, there is a point where less is more.

      Whoever is responsible for that mess has probably lost the store more customers than sales dollars gained. I would NOT shop there, and I LOVE to buy stuff.

      Some people are just idiots


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