9 Store Secrets That Make You Buy More

By Jemima Lopez

Most people know the basic rules of shopping: don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry, don't expect to look good under the lights of a dressing room, and don't anger the ladies giving out free samples or they'll cut you off. But stores play by their own set of rules that target the customers' wallets. They obviously want you to have a pleasant experience in their stores so that you'll come back, but they also want you to buy as much as possible each time you walk through their convenient automatic doors. When you set out on your next shopping trip, keep these store secrets in mind so you won't fall into their clever traps and buy a mountain of Twinkies or something else you don't need.

  1. Milk is always in the back of the store

    You probably can't count the number of times you've gone to the grocery store just to get a fresh gallon of milk and come out with several bags of products. Because milk is an item that many people want to just run in and grab, stores place it in the back corner farthest from the entrance so that even the hurried customer will be forced to walk by tons of other merchandise. This shopper might run across a few other things they need or some items on sale on their way to the milk and pick them up without thinking twice about it. Then on the way back to the checkout counter, they might find some more. This trick is often also true with cheese and butter in grocery stores or restrooms and the toy section in department stores.

  2. They want you to slow down

    Grocery stores do everything in their power to make you stay in their store longer, because the more time you spend there, the more likely you are to add some items to your cart. The retailers have come up with several ways to keep you from speeding your way through the aisles. Some ways are as simple as putting a rug near some profitable items; others are as crafty as putting smaller tiles on the aisles with more expensive products so that you feel like you're going really fast as your cart clicks over the tiles and you subconsciously slow down your pace. Aisles where only two carts can fit through at a time, but that are big enough for people to not feel crowded, are also planned in order to encourage (and often force) extended browsing time.

  3. Expensive items are at eye level

    In general, people are pretty lazy. Stores know that we probably won't use extra energy to grab something if we don't have to, so they put their money-makers where they are easiest to see and pick up. If you're looking for spaghetti sauce, you'll probably first notice the name brands like Ragu and Prego because they are right in front of your face, but if you look at the bottom shelves or on the very top, you'll probably notice that the prices are a lot lower because the brands aren't as well known. The same goes for almost every aisle in the store. You'll even find that certain name-brand products, like sweets, are placed where your kids are more likely to spot them and beg you to buy them or sneak them into your basket when you're not looking.

  1. They present items like they're on sale

    The grocery store bigwigs know that their shoppers can't resist a good deal, so anything that appears to be a bargain is going to jump into the carts of casual shoppers. To capitalize on this phenomenon, many stores make products look like they're on sale when they actually aren't. When you're walking through the store and you see products displayed on the end of an aisle with a big sign promoting the price, you normally assume that's a sale price. Why else would it be written so large? But some stores will set up a normal-priced item in this way to move more merchandise. You'll also find pricey items in a "bargain bin." When you see products tossed in a bin, your dollar-store instincts kick in and you assume everything is heavily discounted. Some stores feed on that habit and will put things in there that aren't on sale.

  2. Cluttered stores feel like they have better bargains

    During the recession, Walmart tried to lure in some higher-end shoppers who were trying to save a little money. They cleaned up the look of their stores by getting rid of displays in the middle of aisles and paring down endcap clutter. Customers agreed that this gave them a better shopping experience, but Walmart noticed that people were buying less after the remodel. Now many stores are moving to the other end of the spectrum and cramming more products into smaller spaces. This move not only allows the retailers to maximize the use of their space, but it gives the shopper a feeling that the products cost less, causing them to stock up without realizing they're paying the same as they normally would.

  3. They take advantage of your sense of smell

    Your nose has a strange power over you that you probably don't even realize. Smells can evoke powerful memories and emotions instantaneously, and stores of all kinds try to get your nose to work in their favor. Many grocery stores funnel in the scent of baking bread or use fans to blow the scent into the store from the kitchen to make you hungry and associate the store with pleasant foods. Other retailers try to find smells that will make you feel relaxed or content, or in other words, put you in the mood to buy their products. Scents have become a branding tool for some high-end stores and hotels, and they choose a smell that people will begin to associate with their brand.

  1. You'll spend more if you use a shopping cart

    You might think that grocery stores put shopping carts at their entrances for your convenience, but that's only half right. Sure, you'll need a cart if you're going to buy a week's worth of groceries, but the more room you have in the buggy, the more likely you are to buy things that aren't on your list. For some reason, humans have the inclination to fill empty spaces, so big carts are calling to be crammed with groceries you don't need. It's best to avoid using carts altogether, but if you know you can't carry everything in your arms, grab a basket or the smallest size of cart available to curb your impulse buys.

  2. The music playlist is specially selected

    You probably wouldn't think that the grocery stores would stoop so low as to use some of your favorite musicians against you, but they do. The music pumping through the speakers of your local retailer is chosen specifically to keep you moving slowly so that you'll have more time to add things to your basket. Research has found that songs in major keys keep customers around longer than those in minor keys, and slow songs keep a shopper's pace down. To fight against this trick, some people bring their iPods with them on shopping trips and play upbeat music to keep them moving quickly through the store.

  3. The prices are part of the psychological strategy

    Even if you got As in your math classes all throughout school, you don't always use those skills when you're out grocery shopping. And the stores know this. That's why they never price things in round numbers; they'd rather make something $4.99 than $5 even though it is essentially the same price. Our brains register the number 4 first and are more likely to associate it with $4 than $5. When comparing different sizes of a product, the numbers can also get pretty complicated so shoppers have a hard time picking the best deal. If a 10-ounce package costs $4.98 and a 20-ounce package costs $8.89, customers are less likely to choose the bigger option than if the packages cost $5 and $9, respectively.

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