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Sneaky Tricks Retailers Use to Make You Spend More $$$

Sneaky Tricks Retailers Use to Make You Spend More $$$
Written by Irina Vasilescu

Did you know that the minute you walk into a retail store, you’re scientifically targeted to spend more than you really need to? No, we’re not talking about stores with compelling salespersons that can talk you into buying an icebox even if you happen to live at the North Pole!
We’re talking about the sort of store where you think you’re helping yourself, free from influence, just buying the things you think you want and need.

We’re not paranoid when we say they’ve studied customer behavior and know just how to take advantage of it to get a few more of your hard-earned dollars into their cash registers.
They know you’ll turn left instead of right when you enter the store – unless you already know where you’re going. They know you’ll notice ‘end caps,’ they line up the snacks you wouldn’t ordinarily buy to tempt you as you wait for the cashier – and more.

Just knowing how retailers are tricking you into spending money can save you lots. Here’s what you need to know:

Huge, enormous ‘SALE’ signs

You see it. You think you’d better check it out. The fact is, you’ll pass by a whole lot of stuff that isn’t on sale before you get to the actual sale items. That way, you may buy something at a regular price, even though you weren’t actually planning to.

The front of the store is a honey-trap

Have you ever noticed that things like cut flowers are always right up front? The same goes for luxury chocolates and a whole variety of things that probably aren’t on your shopping list at all. There’s method in that madness. Before you get to the things you really need to buy, you’ve got to run the gauntlet of carnations and Ferrero-Rocher. How strong is your willpower? 🙂

Up and down the aisles

In a way, it makes a crazy kind of sense. You can’t just walk up an aisle and get everything you need for that pasta dish you’ve got in mind. Instead, you have to cruise up and down to get all your ingredients. In the process, you’ll pass a whole lot of tempting merchandise you weren’t planning on buying. So you’re at the Tomato Paste, but what’s this? A tomato and veg mix? Let’s try that too – and how about this pasta sauce ready mix base? You get the picture…

Eye candy at eye level

Next time you arrive at the spot your product is on display, allow your eye to roam both up and down the shelves. Merchandisers know that most people take what’s at eye level – even if it is more expensive.

Remember to check out the package size and compare it with the price too. Having a smaller, cheaper-looking product at eye level is a common trick. Meanwhile, if you check prices carefully, the slightly bigger container stashed out of the line of sight is really cheaper if you consider the volume!

Plenty of aisle room makes you feel at home

Have you ever wondered why so many big stores are – well… big – and seemingly empty? They’re giving you lots of space to shop. If you’re jostling through a crowd to get the item you need, you’ll probably just take it and run – overlooking all the gorgeous merchandise they’d just love you to buy – whether you actually need it or not! Resist the impulse to browse. Get what you need and get out of there!

Happy customers spend more

That doesn’t mean you’re actually happy with the store, it products, or its service. You’re just happy, and that makes you a soft target. How do stores achieve this?

They play upbeat music to get you grooving. They turn every holiday into an occasion, complete with décor and special offers to match. They already know that most of what you buy won’t be on special. If you’re happy enough, you won’t even notice the price. Have you ever noticed how everything’s more expensive just before Christmas?

Odd pricing, an age-old trick?

Ancient Rome. The customer approaches:

  • “How much does that Toga cost, Flavius?”
  • “Only one denarius and 99 centimes, Julius.” Julius goes home with the toga.
  • “How much did that cost you, Julie baby?” says Calpurnia.
  • “Just one denarius,” says Julius, flying in the face of the Greek philosophers and everything he learned about rounding off.

Laugh all you like; we don’t know if they used that trick in ancient Rome, but they’ve been using it in our stores for decades: “Wow! It’s only $34.95!” For some reason, it sounds cheaper than $35. We’re being fooled. Figure.

Teeny tiny price tags

If you thought ‘odd pricing’ was weird, check out this psychological trick. Apparently, researchers have found that we believe a big font is the same as a big number. Seriously. They did research, and that’s what they came up with. So the theory is, make the font for the price really small, and you’ll think it’s a low price for what you’re getting. Either that, or it’s too much effort to read.

  • “So why did you splurge out on that flat screen TV, Homer?”
  • “I don’t know Marge, but the price was really small!”

We promise you, according to the research, this trick works for most people! Don’t let it be you.

“While stocks last.”

This trick is known as “perceived scarcity” and it’s used more often than you’d believe. The retailer tells you that this offer is for the few that grab it in time. Well, you aren’t going to be caught napping, so you buy six to make sure you’re stocked up. Surprise! As soon as the shelf empties, a clerk arrives with a trolley load full and restocks the shelf.

A variant of this trick is to set a per customer limit. “Only 3 per customer!” so what do you do? You figure it must be a good deal if most people want to buy more than 3, so you buy to the limit. Kerching!

Shopping carts as you walk in

You were only planning to buy enough to fill a hand basket, but the shopping carts are more conveniently placed. Coincidence? Probably not. You’re more likely to buy more just because you’ve got a trolley to fill. Strange, but true!

Wow! You’re a size smaller than you thought you were!

There’s a name for this, and it’s called ‘vani-sizing.’ You thought you were a 36, but a 34 fits you better. That’s feel-good effect right there! “Yes, I’ll have these SIZE 34 JEANS,” you say, feeling smug at your newly svelte figure. Guess who’s laughing all the way to the bank?

Sample stop!

Wow! They’re offering free samples, and maybe there’s a nice lady showing just how you’d mix that instant sauce and how it’d taste in a dish. Go on! Not only are you placing yourself when you’d probably say ‘yes’ to something you wouldn’t otherwise have bought, but you’ve also been slowed down. Now you can see all the other products you’d just have cruised right past. Oh! I wonder how that tastes!

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

By the time you’re queueing for the checkout, you’ve already got a hundred dollars or more’s worth of things you need (provided you side tracked all the other temptations). That candy bar is just $0.75! Will you really miss that little value? You wouldn’t even have bought it if you saw it in the aisles, but now? What the heck!

Merchandisers count on “What the heck” purchases, and that’s just why they put them in a place where you’re slowed down, bored, and open to temptation. If that temptation doesn’t look like a budget breaker, all the more reason to give in, right? Right! Your retailer is counting on that!

Only the strong…

Yes, at every turn, retailers are pulling out the stops to make you spend! Know the tricks and experience that “you won’t catch me like that” feeling. Walk out with what was on your list and nothing else. So there! Try it!

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Sneaky Tricks Retailers Use to Make You Spend More $$$

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About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our money-saving and DIY expert and also the editor-in-chief as she's always on the lookout for the latest online deals.


  • In the UK, some supermarkets actually pump the smell of baking bread through the store to make customers hungry so they will spend more!

  • Retailers have had years to study shopping habits of consumers. They understand the psychology of buying. Is it a conspiracy? Are retailers working hand in hand with advertisers? Or merely taking advantage of advertising gimmicks? We watch the ads on television that tell us what to buy and how good it will be, and then voila! Those items are placed strategically in our path on endcaps or as pyramids in their own right. Really, unless you have nerves of steel and a willpower to match, you won’t come out of a store without at least one impulse purchase.

  • Yes, yes, yes – I am always spending more than I plan to spend, especially in Walmart, Giants, and target. I have Target’s cartwheel application on my phone, so I go crazy once I’ve entered the store. I buy a little bit of this, little bit of that, and before I know it I’ve over spent my budget. Its all in the marketing strategy that pulls consumers like me in. 🙂

    I love a good sale, so I jump at the chance to catch the sale(s) while it lasts. I must admit that I am a shopaholic that need to lay on someone’s couch for counseling. LOL!

    The advice to walk out with only the intended purchases is going to be a little difficult for me, but I’ll try it!


    • I totally agree! Although I never noticed before, I do a lot of the things listed here, like always wanting to grab a pack of gum or a chapstick at the register, or walking through the baking aisle for sugar and then grabbing a box of brownie mix, too (I promise I’m not as unhealthy as I sound). Next time I go to the store I am going to observe how I react to different things, such as placement of different items, or where the sale section is in the store, or even how big the font is on my favorite cereal!

  • Ah yes the baking bread smell in the store trick our Sobeys down here always has a nice cookie smell when you come in. I always walk by the bakery though because all I buy from there is bread or bagels. I sometimes splurge on a sweet but try to remind myself I don’t need it. The worse for me is at the checkout and the chocolate bars they always are on 2/$2 lately so I have a hard time passing that up. I also find going hungry is a huge mistake we always grab stuff we don’t need when hungry.

  • I remember being told in home ec class that grocery stores are specifically designed to make you spend more. I never really realized how true this was until reading this article. It is so true that you can’t just get what you need in one isle. If you want to just make a hamburger, you have to go through the bread, produce, meat, condiment, and dairy aisles. And that is just for one entree, let alone a whole meal! It is really ingenious if you think about it.

    • That is a good point. I never think of how we need to move through so many aisles to get what we need to make meals. A hamburger is a good example. I guess the only way to luck out with that is if you already have some of what you need at home.

  • You would be surprised at the amount of money that gets spend training people on consumer psychology, because it can completely change the way that we shop, and make us spending money that we really had no intention of spending in the first place. It is quite annoying when you think about it that people and shops can influence us in this way, but at the same time I have to admit that companies are very clever for doing this.

  • Wow! Out of all above, I knew one of those nasty tricks! I was raised being told that $4.99 was $5 and to not be fooled but that, but who knew there were so many other horrible tricks out there. A lot of these actually seem like common sense, but I’m really starting to question the IQ of humans if we think something is more appealing because the price is in a smaller font. What? I guess it makes sense, but it makes me feel dumb for falling for it. Another thing I do is buy last minute little things out of a “what the heck” decision. I know that stores place little snacks and things by the cashiers for that purpose, but I still fall for it. This post makes me realize that I am falling for a lot of tricks and I am not going to let it happen anymore! Now that I know these tricks, I won’t be falling for them!

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