Store Tricks That Can Part You and Your Money

shopping tricks and trapsI wasn’t too happy with myself the other day. Now I don’t consider myself to be a pushover when it comes to shopping. I’m usually careful to purchase only what I need. I pay attention if things are on sale and purchase one or two extra if it makes sense. I check the dates on everything in the grocery store and generally avoid end caps. You get the picture. But the other day I was in the pharmacy to pick up some needed supplies. I specifically went in for what I needed. The salesperson I talked to pointed out that they had a ‘special offer’ which included what I normally buy plus a bonus for the same price. Seemed good right? Well I was in a hurry so I picked up the item and out the store I went. You can guess what’s coming. When I got home and opened the packaging it turns out I purchased less than half of what I thought. The item I wanted was placed in the packaging on top of so much empty space it looked like the same amount. Same width, same everything, just not as tall. I should have known better, it’s happened before.

We all know that the objective of any retailer is to get you to buy more or pay more for less.  What you may not know is that stores are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the tricks they use to get you to open your wallet.  Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy is a marketing expert turned consumer advocate.  His book looks at the tricks retailers use to encourage you to spend more. Here are just some of the tricks he mentions that you should watch out for – some are marketing driven but some are our own issues.

Supersized Carts

Think of places like Costco. They don’t just use large carts and dollies for your personal convenience. It turns out the larger the cart, the more we are likely to buy. It’s kind of like eating. The larger your dinner plate, the more you eat. The solution? If you are only going in to pick up one item, use a basket or bring your own carry bag. If you haven’t got a place to put an impulse purchase you might just pass it up.


This is the first one I fell victim to. Companies are constantly changing the packaging and it’s not necessary for just looks. In addition to the colour and shape of the packaging changing, you may not notice that the size of the contents just dropped by 10-15%.

Another example of this is the famous size 0. Women’s clothing size numbers are much lower than they were years ago. Why? Because it makes us feel good to be in a size 0, or 2 or 4 so we buy more.

To avoid this trap, always check the content weight (yes I should have but didn’t) and remember, no-one’s looking at the packaging or label once you bring your purchase home.

Shopping Speed Bumps

Anyone who walks around a grocery store regularly should get this one. This includes things like ‘displays’ jutting out into the aisle (no it’s not just because they’ve run out of room on the shelves), to the fact that you have to walk from one end of the store to another, past all the non-grocery items, in order to find everything that you want.  It’s also why they rearrange the stores regularly.

Retailers actually study the way we walk around a store. That’s how they know where to place the high mark-up, impulse purchases. Most of the items they want you to buy are at eye level or on end caps or on a big display. Many retailers also put the everyday items at the back of the store. Why do you think the pharmacy items are at the back of Shopper’s while the food, candy and cosmetics are up front?

To cut back on the risk of spending on items you don’t really need, or didn’t intent to purchase, shop around the outside of the store, especially in the grocery store. If you pick something up from a display, do better than I did and look at it carefully.

Your Own Habits Can Cost You

It’s not just retailer trickery that cause us to spend more than we should. Some of our own shopping habits can be our own worst enemy. For example:

  • The more time you spend shopping, the more you buy. Browsing can be costly. (Of course that’s why retailers play nice music.)
  • If you touch or pick up an item, you are more likely to purchase it than if you didn’t.
  • Like to chat? Turns out if you spend time talking to an employee at the store you are more likely to buy something.
  • If you shop with a friend, you are also more likely to make an impulse purchase.
  • If you carry mostly smaller bills, you’ll spend more than if you have big bills in your wallet. And credit cards? Makes the purchase even easier.

These are just some of the ways stores try to part you and your money. If you’re aware of their tactics when you walk into a store, you can be a lot more careful than I was, and avoid spending more than you should or, in my case, getting less than you expected.

So what were the two tricks that got me? Confusing or vanity packaging (a smaller item in a bigger box) and talking to the sales person rather than paying attention to what I was picking up.

What have your experiences been like? Have you noticed any other tricks of the retail trade?

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