Ways Stores Mess with Your Mind

Back to school season and shopping season even if you don’t have kids at all – or at least, no school-aged children. Commercials, advertisements, and the gradually approaching Labor Day holiday all feel like a signal that it’s time to start preparing for Fall while simultaneously savoring the last of Summer.

You might not really feel ready to hit the stores, but believe me, the stores are ready for you! Don’t get me wrong, they’re always ready for you and your money. In fact, do you ever wonder why you go into many stores like Target, Walmart, Costco, etcetera, and end up purchasing much more than you ever intended to when you went through their front door? Don’t feel bad; it’s not just you. Stores spend a lot of time and money on research to help them get you to shop more.

Here are some techniques used and the reasons for them:

Directing traffic flow in the store

Stores want to slow down your shopping experience. The more time you’re in the store, the more products you’ll see. The more products you see, the more likely you are to spend money on them.

Research has shown that when shopping people instinctively turn to the right. Retailers often take advantage of this by designing their stores in ways that encourage you to turn right. This makes you feel more comfortable in the store, which makes you more likely to shop longer. It can be much less efficient for you as a shopper and make it harder to find things, my dad keeps you in the store longer which is what the business wants. And, you are more likely to make impulse purchases when you’re distracted from your shopping goals.

Unless they turn their aisles into one-way streets, stores can’t make you move in a specific direction. (I think IKEA with its arrows on the floor does a good job of it though!) Frequently, stores encourage you to turn right by placing particularly appealing displays in that direction.

Aisle Design – Stores slow down movement by how they design the aisles.

Aisle Width. Narrower aisles make you move more slowly. Stores do have to avoid going too far with this because aisles that clog up can aggravate customers to the point that they become ex-customers. They want to slow you down, not make you run away.

Breaks in the Path. Many big-box stores, (think Costco or Walmart as examples), can’t make their aisles narrow. Their shopping carts are big and need room to pass one another going in opposite directions. A method they use to slow shoppers is to create stopping points in the middle of the aisle, like display racks or attention-grabbing signs. These types of interruptions get you to pause in the aisle, so you see more merchandise.

What’s at the End? Stores want to slow you down, but they do want you to keep moving forward. To lure you on, stores set up interesting displays at the end that you can just see a little of from within the aisle. It’s an effective tool for tugging you around the corner.

What about the Shopping Carts?

Have you noticed that shopping carts seem to be getting bigger and bigger? According to some research I’ve found, the average size of a shopping cart has just about tripled since in the mid-1970s. Why? Well, it stands to reason that the bigger the cart, the more a shopper can put into it. Your purchases also seem like “not so much” when there is so much extra room in the cart.

Product Positioning is a critical part of the game

Nothing in a store is placed without thought. Strategic product placement enables stores to direct your attention to exactly what they want you to purchase.  When positioning their products, stores often do the following:

Hey, look at that! Retailers put eye-catching displays near the front of the store to get you to slow down and look as you enter. And distract you from the purpose of your visit,

Hide the Staples. Supermarkets frequently put staple items like bread, milk, and eggs as far as possible from the store entrance. This forces you to make your way past a wide range of other foods before you can get the gallon of milk you came in for originally.

Double trouble. Once you manage to get your milk, there’s a good chance you’ll want a package of cookies to go with it. You’ll have to go halfway across the store to find them. Stores like to separate items people frequently buy together so you have to move around and hopefully spot other enticing items on the way.

Eye-level expense. In a store aisle, the things you’re most likely to notice are the ones at eye level. Store owners charge brands a premium to have their products shelved at that height. Look above or below for better deals.

Check out temptation challenges. As if a retailer hasn’t had enough opportunity to tempt you into unplanned purchases during your visit, they unleash a last barrage at checkout. Stores stock checkout lanes with products people are likely to purchase impulsively – things like candy, batteries, magazines, and small gift items.

Pricing Strategies

Stores are well aware that everyone loves a bargain. There are some common pricing tricks or manipulations that make things seem like a good deal even when they may not be. Here’s just a little information about a few of the common ways it’s done:

Anchor Pricing – anchors your brain to a false sense of reasonable

Let’s say you go into a store to buy a waist-length jacket. You plan to spend about $80. When you enter the outerwear section of the store, the first thing you see is a display featuring a fancy leather jacket. It’s beautiful, but the $500 price tag is way out of your range.

Next to this display, you see a rack of nice jackets with a leather collar, priced at $175. That’s much less expensive than the fancy leather jacket that you happily buy… and spend a little more than twice what you intended.

Goldilocks Pricing is similar to Anchor pricing, but even more thorough

You remember Goldilocks and the three bears, right? In this scenario, your Goldilocks, and the three bears are three prices of three different but same category of items.

Item #1: Very well-made but very expensive

Item #2: Poorly made and very cheaply priced

Item #3: Decent quality with a price in the middle of the others

For most shoppers, just like Goldilocks choosing her bowl of porridge, the third option is “just right.”

Special Offers aren’t always so special

Retailers trying to convince you that you’re getting a bargain or a special deal that you need to grab before it’s gone. Many of their internet promotions also push this agenda.

Coupon Deals. How can coupons that reduce prices ever not be a good thing? Always remember that no business sends out coupons if they aren’t expecting to make money. They hope you’ll buy things you hadn’t planned on because it’s such a great deal if you use the coupon, and not think about how you’d save more if you didn’t buy anything at all.

Limited-Time Offers. A sense of urgency is created with this type of language and that triggers a fear of missing out on a deal. If you pay attention you’ll notice that there’s always another still coming right on the heels of this one, whatever it is.

Freebies. Including a free bonus item, or free shipping, or a” buy one get one free deal” deal can be so tempting but remember that the retailer you still making money. If you need the item, go ahead, but if you don’t need it, resist.

X cans for $X. When you’re at the grocery store and you see a display like this unless the sign says you must purchase that many, you can divide the dollar amount by the number of cans and purchase individually if that’s all you need.

Limits on Purchases. Ever see a canned goods display labeled “Limit 10 per customer” or “Maximum 6 per customer”?  It’s usually just another way of creating a feeling of urgency among shoppers.

Shrinking packages – Another common trick used by manufacturers and supermarkets is to keep the price of a product the same, but make the package smaller. My favorite example? A half-gallon carton of ice cream used to really be a half-gallon or two quarts. Somewhere around the year 2000, it shrank to 1.75 quarts, and then again to 1.5 quarts. At this point, there is a huge list of products packaging less and less but selling things for the same price or more

Color Appeal

Red. Many stores utilize red because it’s a bright, eye-catching color. It’s often used in restaurants because it’s been shown to stimulate appetite. It’s frequently used to highlight sale prices and is the signature color of Target.

Pink.  Maybe you don’t think of it as one of your favorite colors, but pink can actually calm you down. It’s been repeatedly demonstrated that exposure to this color reduces aggression and increases relaxation.

Orange. Shoppers apparently associate this color with fairness and affordability. That’s why it’s popular with value-oriented stores like Home Depot. Think of those orange utility aprons salespeople wear in those stores

Yellow. The color yellow can increase your energy level and appetite. That makes yellow and gold shades a popular choice for fast-food restaurants. The golden arches certainly come to mind!

Green. We associate green with the environmental movement. Manufacturers and retailers can use it to “greenwash” their products, making them look more eco-friendly without changing the way they’re made or packaged. For these efforts, the green is often accompanied by a recycled style of light brown or tan. Always read the packaging to check for authenticity.

Blue. Most people like the color blue, and it’s perceived as a color of trustworthiness, dependability, and peace.

Black Retailers use black when they want to make a product look luxurious and sophisticated. It’s often paired with silver or gold writing or detail. Dark brown and deep burgundy are also shades used to indicate luxury, refinement, and exclusivity.

I hope next time you head to the store, you’re even more alert and aware than ever before about commonly encountered retail strategies. What are your thoughts about any of the ones I described here? Are there others you’ve noticed in your shopping? Feel free to contact me at frominhere@gmail.com and you might find yourself mentioned in a future newsletter.

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