Seven mind tricks stores like to play and how to avoid them

All stores of all types have roughly the same purpose – to sell products and make money. To achieve that end they need consumers walking into their store and then buying things; preferably a lot of things.

Everything about your experience once you enter a store is highly strategic and calculated to maximize the amount of money you’ll end up spending, whether you mean to or not. These measures are subtle and often subliminal, but if you’re aware of them and take the proper steps to counter them, you can keep your shopping on track and avoid overspending.

Essentials in the back

The physical layout of every store is always carefully considered. One of the most common layout tricks is for grocery stores to keep the core essentials like milk and eggs – the items you’re most likely to buy without a list because you “only need a few things” – as far away from the entrance as possible. This means you have to navigate through almost the entire store in order to find the one or two things you need. Meanwhile, you’re passing by aisle upon aisle of tantalizing impulse purchases.

To overcome this subtle mind trick, avoid grabbing a basket on the way in. We have a subconscious desire to fill shopping carts and baskets, so limiting yourself to only what you can carry by hand may help ward off unnecessary purchases. Another idea – leave your wallet locked up in your glove compartment and take only enough cash to pay for the few items you came to buy.

Look high and low

The choicest bits of prime estate in every store are the shelves at eye level and the displays at the ends of the aisle. These are the items that the retailer wants you to buy. That doesn’t mean you definitely shouldn’t buy items found at eye level, but it does mean that you should check the lower and higher shelves, too, to make sure you’re not missing out on any great deals.

Confusion is key

If you’re ever found yourself in a grocery store going around in circles, that’s actually by design. Stores are purposefully laid out in an unintuitive manner. The idea is to create the right amount of distraction and frustration. If you’re on your third lap through the store looking for artichoke hearts you’re going to be less likely to consider the price once you finally find what you’re looking for.

One idea to combat this phenomenon is to take the time to put your shopping list in aisle order. If your list is mapped out properly, you’ll be able to avoid backtracking and making bad choices out of frustration.

Mind the fitting room

If you’ve been inside any number of clothing stores, you’ve probably noticed two consistent tendencies about the location of fitting rooms – they’re usually either next to the cash registers or located next to the men’s department.

Fitting rooms are placed next to the checkout line in order to nudge shoppers who may be on the fence into making a quicker decision about their potential purchase. If you’ve just tried on a pair of pants and find yourself immediately confronted with a polite, smiling person and a cash register, you’re more likely to make the purchase.

Meanwhile, men who have gone through the trouble of trying on a piece of clothing are almost three times more likely to buy that piece of clothing than women who have tried on a piece of clothing. That’s why stores go out of their way to make fitting rooms easy for male customers to find.

Give yourself a mandatory five minute cool down period after trying on clothing. Walk around a little bit. If there’s any doubt in your mind, leave the store. If you still want to make the purchase two days later, go for it.

Nothing is free

Free samples aren’t a courtesy; they’re a very powerful sales tool. As an article from The Atlantic noted, usage of free samples has been shown to boost sales as much as 2,000 percent.

Part of why samples work so well is because they help build product awareness, but it goes much deeper than that. Samples tend to awaken our cravings. Summer sausage is pretty tasty, but you probably don’t think about it all that often. If you were presented with a free slice, however, and it was delicious and it was right there (and on sale to boot), suddenly you may find that really need to bring home some summer sausage.

Also, free samples play with our innate sense of reciprocity. When someone gives us something for free, deep down we feel like we owe them something in return. You don’t, of course. So feel free to sample the samples to your heart’s content, just remember that free samples require no payment in return and if that sample tastes good consider buying it next time, when it’s on your grocery list.

Buy only what you need

Every store everywhere runs some variation of the “buy 10 for $10” sale. And in almost every instance, the per-unit price is the same no matter how many you actually buy. Unless an advertisement expressly states that you MUST BUY a certain number of units, you don’t need to buy any more than you need in order to get the sales price.

Marked up to mark down

A popular psychological pricing trick (especially around the holidays) is to advertise an inflated saving percentage. “Save 70 percent!” sounds enticing, but what was the starting price? Very often retailers mark down from a highly inflated starting price, meaning those savings aren’t exactly legitimate. Ignore the percentage of a sale and focus on the final price. Compare that with other stores to see what you’re really saving (if you’re saving anything at all).

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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