How Retailers Trick Us Into Buying More


When I was in college I wrote a paper on marketing and the psychology of shopping.  I find the world of marketing incredibly fascinating.  Sometimes I feel that I know my wants & my needs very well.  But other times I am easily swayed!  To err is human 😉

When you go to the mall with the itch to buy, the commercials, print ads and blog advertorials have fulfilled their purpose.  But now that you’re in the store, they’ll try to seal the deal with a few tricks.  Retailers try to put value into your experience.  The higher the perceived value, the more worth you will give to that experience.  


Nearly every brick and mortar store displays their items on tables alongside regular racks.  Think cozy sweaters and knits at Express & Urban Outfitters.  Or bowls and trays of jewelry like at Forever 21.  Touching encourages you to take ownership mentally.  The feel of an item on your skin or in your hands is a very powerful thing.  A few more stores I can think of: Victoria’s Secret underwear displays, merch tables at Aritzia or H&M.


Some shoppers are sensitive to smells but a few notable retailers use this to make you feel more at ease.  Or it can remind you of the last time you visited that shop and create a sense of nostalgia.  Some examples:  The scent of Voluspa candles burning at Anthropologie, or A&F and Hollister signature scents sprayed in each store.


This can be a little more subtle, or incredibly loud.  I notice when its close to closing time, workers shut off the store music.  The effect is jarring and a bit uncomfortable.  Now the shuffling of carts and footsteps is heard, and you can hear conversations from the end of the room.  Music drowns out these sounds and envelops the shopper into a different world.  A&F, Hollister, and Guess are a few stores with LOUD music.  Sometimes they’ll recruit working DJ’s into the store to mimic a nightclub.  Uptempo beats raise the heartrate, lift emotions and as a result you can be more inclined to buy.

Carts and bags

Lately my local Target stores have workers greeting you at the door, asking you if you’d like a cart.  Today retail shopping carts are huge in comparison to the past.  The bigger the shopping cart, the more inclined you can be to fill  it up.  (This is akin to eating on large plates or bowls.  Eating multiple portions on small plates will help curb your portions, whereas putting a small amount of food on a large plate makes the dish look empty.)  This is also true with shopping bags.  Victoria’s Secret associates are known to hand out those large, black and pink mesh shopping bags (5 undies for $25, anyone?)

Store layout and sale signs

Stores purposely push sales racks to the back, or hide them in the center of a designated merch section.  (A mouse in a maze comes to mind here.  We must get to the cheese!) They do this because they know that the longer you spend in a store, the more likely you are to shop.  And you have to walk past the “nice and new,” expensive merchandise in order to get to the deals.  The color red is almost always used in sale signs or promotions.  Red is easy to spot!  (I hate it when some stores print tags on red/orange labels when they’re not on sale… it tricks me into looking! Haha)

Store layout tricks are also true for grocery stores… fresh food items are perishable and need refrigeration, so they are located along the perimeter of the store.  Think milk, eggs, and juice. Higher priced junk foods are in the center.  (Junk food may seem cheaper but recipes from scratch yield more servings per weight.)


This applies to grocery stores and big box stores.  Candy and gum are frequently placed by the registers so you can add them to your purchase as an afterthought.  Because when you’re hungry, its easy to make the wrong choices with food.  Macy’s has this feature too… with special Macy’s-Godiva chocolate bars!

Next-visit coupons!

“Here’s a coupon for 20% off your next visit!”  :(  This personally irks me because I just went to your store to buy the things I wanted and now I have a coupon.  Sigh.  I’ve experienced this at A&F and Hollister Factory stores and Old Navy.


Buy one get one half off!  BOGO 50% off!  In actuality, this is only giving you 25% off your entire purchase.  Displaying a larger number, 50%, is much more appealing than the actual 25% you will save.  Drug stores like CVS, Rite Aid, and also Payless shoes like to feature these types of deals.

So what can you get from all of this?  Retailers can pull out many tricks to entice us to shop, but ultimately we are the ones who make the choice.  Make sure that the item you’re buying is worth your time, and your hard earned money.

♥ E&I