Retail tricks that get you to buy more

I am fascinated by American consumerism. What are we buying? Why? How much of what we buy is out of need versus want or impulse?

One of the first books that I read on American consumerism was Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks. A couple years later, I picked up Trading Up by Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske. Both of these books were good at explaining purchasing trends among America’s middle class, but neither specifically addressed what businesses do to tempt people into spending money.

After asking around, I picked up Why We Buy by Paco Underhill on the recommendation of several friends. Aha! I had finally found a book with scientific answers. The book is written for retailers who want to increase sales, but I read it as a consumer who wants to see through marketing tactics and not fall prey to unnecessary consumption.

Informed shoppers can keep their spending in check and clutter-prone items out of their homes by thinking about the following issues before going into a store:

  • Trick: Retailers organize their stores in ways that encourage you to see and visit everything they sell. The more you see, the more likely you are to buy. Foil: Have a shopping list before you go into the store and stick to it.
  • Trick: Stores provide shopping carts and bags so that you can have your hands free to grab as much as possible. Foil: Don’t take a cart or a bag when you enter a store (when you can avoid it).
  • Trick: Displays are often placed on aisle end caps and in the middle of sales floors for items that stores want to move quickly because the items are high profit margin or overstocked — not usually because these items are the best products or on sale. Foil: Evaluate prices against comparable products and product quality, and ask yourself questions such as these before deciding to buy these items.
  • Trick: Grocery stores know that more people impulse buy in their businesses than in other businesses, especially people who bring children with them. Foil: If possible, shop while your children are at a violin lesson or spending time with their favorite aunt. Also, pay with cash instead of your debit card so that you can more directly feel the impact of your shopping decisions.
  • Trick: Retailers hang and display their products so that you can reach out and touch them. People often buy what they touch. Foil: Be aware of what you touch in stores. If you can’t keep your hands to yourself while shopping, consider doing most of your purchasing online instead of in a physical retail environment.
  • Foil: An online Consumer Reports subscription also can help by providing you with tested product information before you go shopping. A well-informed consumer is a good consumer.

Why We Buy has hundreds (maybe thousands) more retailing tricks within its pages. If you’re interested in learning what stores are doing to get you to buy and bring more clutter into your home, I highly recommend reading it. I think that you will be surprised by all of the tricks retailers have up their sleeves. Also, if you know of a good book that we might have missed on this topic, we would love to hear about it in the comments section.

Remember, too, that we’re not against consumerism. We just believe that it’s better to make the right choices about what we buy than to just buy things to have more stuff.

11 Comments for “Retail tricks that get you to buy more”

  1. posted by Eric on

    Thanks for the amazon links. Is this article a trick to make me buy some books?

  2. posted by Erin on

    Eric — Funny … I hadn’t thought about it that way. I guess that your foil would be to get them from the library :) I actually bought my copy of “Why We Buy” as an (gasp) impulse buy when I was in the bookstore picking up another book. There is irony somewhere in there …

  3. posted by The Shopping Sherpa on

    Paco Underhill has another excellent book out called “The call of the mall”

  4. posted by Jean-Denis Haas on

    I like “All Marketers Are Liars” by Seth Godin.

    Interesting analysis of marketing tricks.

  5. posted by Jody on

    I would thoroughly recommend ‘Status Anxiety’ by Alain de Botton – A fascinating insight into consumerism and its effects on society.

  6. posted by Tom B on

    Vitals such as Milk and Butter are at the end of the store. So I walk by the chips, cookies, etc.

    The other trick I note is placing wine all throughout the store, near the produce, near the cheese & deli section, etc.

  7. posted by Tina on

    We always use the trick of shopping “The Ring”: the outer part of the store where all of the produce, meat and dairy live. Only after we’ve gotten through the essential things do we ever go in the very dangerous aisle area, and that’s usually for things like tea, toilet paper and pasta. It keeps our bill down to what we need and will enjoy.

  8. posted by Ramon on

    One of the best retail tricks of all is IKEA. There are no aisles, just a “tour” of different room setups. In order to get to the end, you have to follow the “tour” – they basically get you to see the entire store before you leave.

    They now have “shortcuts” because some people felt it was a little too blatant, but the original setups didn’t. Even then, the shortcuts make you go through different sections. It’s brilliant.

  9. posted by gumnos on

    Strange that people think first of buying the book. My first reaction was to check my local public library’s on-line catalog. Sure enough, they have Why We Buy, and I’ll be able to read it without it occupying any permanent space.

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