It’s no secret that both online and brick-and-mortar stores are designed to encourage you to spend as much money as possible. But if you're trying to shop smarter, you should know the strategies stores use to push you toward those superfluous buys.
Here are the most notorious retail tricks. Learn how to outsmart them the next time you're shopping.
1. CHANGING UP THE STORE LAYOUT
You may think you know your favorite store as well as your own home, but a closer look reveals otherwise. "Many retailers have taken up the practice of regularly moving around their products in order to keep you moving around, scanning the shelves and ultimately buying more," says shopping and trends expert Sara Skirboll. If you come in looking for a specific product, ask a salesperson to direct you right to it — that way, you don't end up browsing (and buying) things you don't need.
2. PLAYING OFF YOUR EMOTIONS
Shopping can be a highly emotional experience, and stores capitalize on this. "Music, for instance, can help put people in a good mood," says psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D. Feeling good can translate into feeling more generous.
Another way stores hit that emotional nerve is by showcasing a lifestyle (looking at you, Anthropologie). With a little help from model photography or motivational slogans, “stores subtly encourage consumers to spend a little more or buy one more thing to get closer to their ideal image of themselves," Michaelis explains. If you often get caught up in the moment inside a store, consider shopping online instead.
3. USING DECEPTIVE MIRRORS
Yep, it's a thing. According to shopping expert Andrea Woroch, clothing retailers may use tilted mirrors or dim lighting in fitting rooms to make shoppers appear leaner or tanner. She advises always checking your reflection in a mirror on the sales floor and making sure you can return items for a full refund just in case they don't look quite as stellar on you at home.
4. GETTING YOUR ATTENTION WITH 'SALES'
Sales aren't meant to save you money — they're meant to drive profits. "Retailers use urgency by promoting limited-time deals such as 'daily deals' or 'one-day only' to make you think it's the absolute final chance to shop at rock-bottom clearance prices, even though it rarely is," Woroch explains. Resist the lure of flash sales and use tools like InvisibleHand or RankTracer to help you compare prices and find better deals.
5. OFFERING FOOD SAMPLES
Unless an item really piques your interest, avoid samples at supermarkets, Skirboll warns. "Many studies have shown that providing free samples can boost sales by at least 30 percent — up to as much as 2,000 percent — swaying you to buy things you never planned on purchasing," she explains. Bring your own snacks or eat beforehand so you won't be tempted.
6. BAITING YOU WITH A 'FREE' GIFT
Getting something free puts people in a good mood, thus encouraging spending, Michaelis says. "If we are wavering on a purchase because of price, a free gift can feel like the just the extra little push we need to get us to open our wallets," he explains.
But know that these "gifts" are designed to encourage you to spend more. For example, a bonus gift card will likely lead you to spend more than a card’s value, Skirboll says. Or a beauty sample may lead to full-size purchases. Always analyze what you're getting.
7. SUPERSIZING SHOPPING CARTS
If you've wondered why shopping carts seem massive these days, it's because a bigger cart encourages people to fill it up with more stuff, Woroch says. Use a hand basket instead — you'll be forced to stick to your list.
8. STRATEGICALLY PLACING IMPULSE BUYS
Stores often place bins or displays of smaller items by the register, tempting you to grab just one (or five) more things before checkout.
"While these items are often a great way to try products you may be curious about at a lower cost, be careful not to pick up so many things that your bill balloons," Skirboll says. "Avoid this by setting a spending limit before walking into the store."
9. MAKING ONLINE PURCHASES WAY TOO EASY
Online retailers have their own tricks. "It’s no secret that Amazon’s 'one click' purchase feature, for instance, is super convenient," Skirboll says. "But when you have to take the moment to enter in your billing, shipping and credit card information, it gives you time to reflect and make sure you really want to make that purchase." Turn off one-click ordering, and don't save your information on websites. If you don't compete a purchase, empty your cart, lest you end up with emails nudging you to buy those left-behind items.
10. ENTICING YOU WITH FREE SHIPPING
While free shipping is a wonderful thing, free shipping minimums are designed to get you to spend more than you intend. "Most shoppers would prefer to receive more things they want versus spend less and pay a shipping cost," Skirboll says. Once you have the goods at home, you're more likely to keep them than deal with the hassle of returns. So, only shop online retailers that offer free shipping with no minimums or wait until the website is running a free shipping promotion.