Savvy shoppers these days know they can’t take things at face value. A sale isn’t always as good as it appears, and you have to constantly be aware of the little tricks retailers use to get you to open (and empty) your wallet. The moral of the story? Bargain shoppers, beware!
I’ve put together 20 of the most common tactics stores use to encourage, persuade, and even trick you into spending more money.
1. Pricing that doesn’t end in 9 so you notice it more.
If a price ends in 4, 7, or some other random number, it’s likely to stand out because it doesn’t end with the standard 9 or 0. It also subliminally suggests the seller has seriously considered the price.
2. Per-customer limits to give the impression that there’s high demand for an item.
Nothing increases demand like scarcity. When stores say, “limit four per customer,” it gives the impression there’s high demand, a limited supply, a low price, or all of the above.
3. “10/$10, 2/$5” sales so that you’ll stock up.
Sure, you only need one of an item, but think of how much you’ll save by buying 9 more! This age-old trick leverages that logic and makes shoppers almost twice as likely to stock up on a product. Do you want to know a little secret? You can usually get the same per unit price, even if you only buy one.
4. Free shipping thresholds to make you add more to your cart.
This one is hard to resist! Who hasn’t added $12 extra dollars to a cart to bump the total up and save $7 on shipping? Free shipping on orders over $50 or $75 is one of the most effective ways retailers get us to spend more than we intended.
Tip: Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, and others now match online prices, so you can skip the shipping altogether and get the same deals in-store. Or shop stores that offer free shipping with no minimum purchase.
5. Putting goods in the back of the store in hopes you’ll buy things not on your list.
We’re all onto this trick, but we still fall for it. Retailers place popular items in the back of the store to make you wander to get to them. Walmart, for example, has their ship-to-store and photo desks in the back, forcing you to pass hundreds of appealing products along the way—even if you only intended to pick up something you ordered online.
6. Rearranging the store so you’ll discover new products in your search.
Have you ever walked into a store you know like the back of your hand, only to find everything has been moved? When retailers mix things up, it forces you to wander to find the things you need, and we learned in #5 what wandering does to us.
7. “Buy one (or two, or three, or four), get one free” sales that aren’t actually deals.
“Sale” is not necessarily synonymous with “good deal.” Sometimes all this makes you do is buy items you don’t need. Check the prices on similar products to measure the actual value of the deal.
8. Paid memberships to make you think you’re getting the best deals on everything.
Consumers who pay for an annual membership (think Amazon Prime or Costco) sometimes automatically assume they’re getting the best deals on everything. The truth is, if you don’t comparison shop, you could potentially pay 150% of going retail prices.
9. Placing a lower priced item next to a higher priced one to make the cheaper seem like a “must buy.”
For example, place a $40 watch next to a similar looking $200 watch, and all of a sudden, you can’t pass up the “deal” on the $40 watch.
10. Marking prices in red so you’ll feel compelled to buy.
Have you ever noticed that sale signs are often red? Red makes markdowns seem more drastic, thus compelling you to buy. A quick look at Williams-Sonoma.com, and you’ll see a lot of their prices are listed in red. Those aren’t sale prices, but they sure feel like they are.
11. Treating you like a friend so you’ll feel guilty if you don’t make a purchase.
Salespeople can be key factors in how much we spend. If an associate is friendly, engages you, and shares, you’re likely to buy more because you feel connected to the person.
12. Selling reusable bags with their logo so you don’t forget to come back.
This not only reminds you to shop at a particular store, but when you do shop, it creates a space that needs to be filled. Some stores ::ahem:: IKEA ::ahem:: sell bigger bags to encourage you to buy more in order to fill it.
13. Providing a spot to rest so you’ll have time to think about more purchases.
This may seem like a nice perk, but it’s really a perk with a trap attached. Stores put products they’re having a hard time selling in this area. The more you rest, the more you’ll talk yourself into buying that item you didn’t really need.
14. Using cheap advertised items to get you through the door.
Seductively cheap items placed near entrances, or on website homepages, get you to open your wallet. Once you’re already spending a little bit of money, why not spend more? Black Friday loss leader deals are good examples of this tactic.
15. Getting you to buy accessories for a bigger profit on individual markups.
Sure, you got a good deal on the new tablet, but now you need a case, extra charger, screen protector, etc. New toys need batteries and other accessories, and the list goes on and on.
16. Adjusting clothing sizes so you think you’ve lost weight and need to buy new clothes.
One of the all-time sneakiest retailer tricks is to adjust the clothing sizing. This is called “vani-sizing” and refers to downgrading the clothing size to get you to think you’ve lost weight and simply “must have” the item (this works especially well to sell jeans!).
17. Limited-time offers that make you forget to price compare.
These are bad news for two reasons: 1) They speed up the decision-making process, and 2) They can make things seem better than they are.
18. Placing pricier items at eye level so they’re easy to grab and go.
You learned to look both ways before you cross the street, so employ the same strategy when shopping. Stores keep items that are more expensive at eye-level to make them easy to grab and purchase. Look around and you may see a better deal.
19. Sample stations that make you want to buy new products.
Free samples increase the amount of time you spend in a store, expose you to new products, and make you feel obligated to buy.
20. Putting like items together so you buy both.
Chips and dip, peanut butter and jelly, socks and shoes—stores know when they group similar items together, you’re more likely to buy both. Web sites do this too with like suggested items, or “customers also bought” recommendations.
21. Marking eggs “cage-free” when they actually aren’t.
Hate to burst your bubble on this one, but some of those cage-free eggs that you buy aren’t actually cage-free. Truth be told, some factories use bigger cages that can be considered “cage-free”.
In the end, you’re getting tricked into paying more. If you really want “cage-free” eggs, look for “free range” instead. You’ll actually get what you’re paying for.