It's April Fools season, which means you might be on alert for pranks from your coworkers or family. But have you considered how retailers are fooling you every single day? Merchants have a whole bag of tricks up their sleeves, and they don't wait for April 1 to use them.
Each day, stores are trying to convince us to put more in our carts and rack up a bigger bill at checkout. So in the spirit of the season, let's take a look at how shops convince us to open our wallets — which might help us spend just a bit less.
Layouts Designed to Make You Buy
Have you ever wondered why the one item you're looking for is somehow always in the farthest corner of the store? Whether you're walking into a department store or a grocery store, this "coincidence" happens by design.
Making you walk the length of the store gives you plenty of opportunities to be tempted by every display you pass. Yes, this is why the dairy department is inevitably on the far side. Stores with convoluted layouts, such as the maze-like IKEA, make you pass as many products as possible before you leave. The more items you see, the more you’re likely to take home.
Handing Out Freebies
Giving out free samples of everything from food to cosmetics is a retail staple — especially on busy weekends, when more people are shopping. While snacking your way through the grocery store can spice up your grocery run, it's another way for retailers to convince you to buy. Not only are you checking out new products, but you may also feel obligated to buy something after taking up someone's time.
Some stores go out of their way to be helpful. Just think of the Apple Store, where employees meet you at the door to ask what you need and direct you to the right place. Then there are even more employees to demo products, answer questions, and even provide tech support.
A friendly face can make shoppers feel obligated to pick up a product, whether they realize it or not.
This is more than just good customer service: It's the sort of helpfulness that tempts you into buying a new iPhone when a low-end smartphone might have done just as well. Plus, a friendly face can make shoppers feel obligated to pick up a product, whether they realize it or not.
Encouraging You to Stop
You can't put something in your shopping cart unless you stop to do so, which means it's in a retailer's best interest to make you stop as often as possible. So while you're making that long walk across the store to pick up milk, you'll find your progress halted by an obstacle course of narrow aisles, flashy displays, friendly employees handing out freebies, and more.
Crowds can form bottlenecks at these places, and while you're stuck, that's one more opportunity for you to pick something up.
Attracting Attention With Endcaps
You're sure to find lots of eye-catching, colorful items positioned towards the end of the aisle, while the things you're shopping for are often in the middle of an aisle. The result? You have to walk past these other, more tempting things twice before you can checkout with the one thing you wanted.
Catching Your Eye
The next time you're at the grocery store, take a moment to consider what's on eye level — because that's where stores want to direct your attention. It's often brand name products with stylish packaging, or temptingly priced store brand items. Anything the store is less interested in selling will be on higher or lower shelves, where you're less likely to see it.
Similarly, in toy stores or toy aisles, you'll find the most desirable goodies at a kid's eye level. Even if these items don't catch your gaze, your kids are definitely seeing them.
Careful Product Placement
The way stores arrange products on a rack or shelf plays a big role in encouraging you to buy, too. Imagine you're shopping for a coat and you see a $250 designer number that's just what you want. One rack over, there's a similar style for just $199. Naturally, you pick up the cheaper coat and walk out thinking you've scored a deal — without bothering to check around the corner, where there's yet another lookalike coat that costs $50.
The Right Sounds and Smells
Shopping goes well beyond what you can see and touch: The background music and even the scent of the store can put you in the mood to shop. Music with a slow tempo might encourage you to linger, unconsciously following the beat. The subtle scent of baby powder in the baby section, or a faint tropical scent in the swimsuits, may subtly put you in the mind to buy.
Giant Shopping Carts
The next time you head to the grocery store, consider skipping the shopping cart. When you have to carry your purchases yourself, you're going to think twice about picking up extras. But when you have a cart, that extra purchase might not seem like such a big deal. Or worse, you'll find yourself attempting to fill the cart entirely.
Encouraging You to Accessorize
Padding a sale with accessories is an easy way for a store to improve its bottom line, especially with electronics. Say you're shopping for a new TV. After you've picked a model, the salesman will helpfully offer to show you stands or wall mounts. Perhaps you could use a new Blu-ray player to go with it? Or a high-end set of cables? Or an upgraded warranty?
These unnecessary extras might not seem like much at the time, especially when you're buying a big ticket item. But they add up fast.
While companies aren’t necessarily out to deceive you, they have a whole host of ways to convince you to spend just a bit more. But by knowing their best tricks ahead of time, you can keep a bit more cash in your wallet on your next shopping trip.
This article first appeared in DealNews.