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5 Ways Stores Get You to Spend More (and 1 Way to Beat Them)

You can really fit a lot of groceries in this one. Then you can drive it home.

You know your grocery store is indulging in multiple tricks, nudges and persuasion to get you to spend more. We’re all educated consumers, and we’re much harder to fool with that whole Oreos on the end-of-the-aisle display, store brands in the middle thing than we once were. But some of the manipulation plays out beneath the radar: who knew the pattern on the carpet was set up to lead you deeper into the store?

Women’s Day magazine has an article on “avoiding shopping scams,” and while I wouldn’t call putting the milk or diapers at the back of the store to make sure you have to walk all the way through to get what you need (perhaps the oldest trick in the book) a “scam,” I do think it pays to remind yourself that the last thing the store wants you to do is to buy only the thing on your list. And maybe tune into the pattern on the carpet.
Here were my five favorite in-store tactics to get you to linger longer and open your wallet wider:

  1. Bigger carts. Seriously. I knew carts had gotten bigger over the years, but I never really thought about why. But I have been at the store, thrown in an eight-pack of paper towels and effectively ended my shopping trip. So that makes sense to me–it’s not so much that a bigger cart makes you spend more as it is that a smaller cart may nudge you to spend less.
  2. The faux sale. “All you need for summer at low, low prices” does not necessarily mean the prices are any lower than they were last spring. But it might get your attention. I see this tactic shopping online for kids’ clothes all the time, too. Special price! Back-to-School savings!
  3. You touch it, you buy it. Apparently if you touch something, research shows you’re actually more likely to buy it. The things you have to take out of your kids hands to put back, the tempting shortcakes right next to the strawberries, precariously perched…pick them up and you’re more likely to put them in your cart.
  4. Put it where your eyes will linger. Women’s Day says this is why department stores put cosmetics near shoes; you’ll look at them while waiting for the clerk to bring out your size. I say, oh, that’s why they put all that stuff right in front of the deli and the meat counter! No, thanks, I really just need the salami.
  5. Sit down and stay a while. The mall food court does it, but so, too, do the convenient places to lunch or munch at the grocery store. Why not sit and let your eyes linger on all the possibilities?

You could go on with this list endlessly. Even the things I really appreciate—putting the cilantro near the avocados, say, or offering recipe cards—are meant to encourage you to consume more. Nearly everything is meant to encourage you to consume more.

So what’s the one trick to defeat the wily ways of marketers, designers and managers? Actually, I’ve got two. There’s the sure-fire, slightly tough to achieve Paco Underhill Prudent Shopper approach: make a list, buy only what’s on it, and get out. If something else tempts you, write it on the back of the list and see if you still want it next time. I’m reasonably good at this, but more because I’ve learned that there is almost nothing at CVS that I really want to own besides toothpaste and pull-ups than because I’m a good shopper. I’m a terrible sucker at the grocery store.

Which brings me to my next technique: painful, stressful and agonizing though it often is: I bring my kids to the grocery store. All four of them, often. I’m a working mother with limited child care; I can’t afford to use babysitting or preschool time up on something that could, theoretically at least, be accomplished mit kinder. So, more often than not, there we are. And if there’s anything on this earth that could encourage me to get out of a store faster than the enthusiastic accompaniment of my 9- and 6-year olds and my two 4-year-olds, I don’t want to know what it is.

Thanks to the Nudge blog for the nudge towards this one.

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