How is it that you can visit two different stores with the same shopping list and end up spending more in one? One big reason: Some retailers use subtle “tricks” to encourage you to spend, without your even knowing it’s happening. These tricks might relax or disorient you. They may even make you feel better about yourself, which can lead you to loosen your grip on the wallet.
Here are seven things to look out for, so that money doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket the next time you shop.
1. Tunes. Do you ever find yourself happily bopping along to a familiar tune while you’re shopping? Stores play music to relax you (and to muffle sounds of other shoppers, who may be bickering with their children in the next aisle, which is a soothing byproduct). Several studies have found a direct correlation between music and how much we spend when shopping. This is particularly prevalent around the holidays, when those familiar tunes get us in the mood to shop for gifts. So, if you find yourself tossing item after item into your cart to the beat of “Jingle Bells,” slow down and make sure you are sticking to your list.
2. Mirrors and lighting. If you’ve ever been in a dressing room and thought, “Wow, that Tabata workout I’ve been doing is really paying off,” then you might be in a room with flattering lighting and a mirror designed to make you look thinner. Mirrors can reflect what you truly look like, but they can also widen or narrow your image. In fact, one company, The Skinny Mirrors, sells them specifically designed to make you look five to 10 pounds thinner. Mirrors can also be tinted to make your skin look smoother or more tan, and they can be mounted at a slight angle, which can make you look taller and thinner.
Dressing room lighting can also affect how you look. Strong overhead fluorescent lights or spotlights tend to cast shadows and make you look slightly lumpy. Softer peachy or golden lights on the walls or near the mirror can produce a softening or blurring effect, making you look nearly flawless. Before you buy all those items that make you look more amazing than usual, leave the dressing room and find other mirrors in the store. They might not be so deceiving. Or shop with your favorite brutally honest friend.
3. Navigation. Stores aren’t just designed to hold as much merchandise as possible. They are also designed to entice you to buy. There are the usual point-of-purchase items at checkout, like gum, but there are less obvious tricks that you may not recognize. For instance, you walk into a store planning to buy one thing. Even if you know where that item is located, it’s often not a straight shot to get there. That’s intentional. As you weave through the aisles, sometimes hitting actual speed bumps in the floor to slow you down, the hope is that you’ll encounter things you like, placed at eye level, along the way. One retailer that excels at this: Ikea. If you follow the path and don’t take shortcuts, you could spend the better part of an afternoon getting to the registers. And by then, your cart will be overflowing.
4. Sales pals. High-end stores often have sales staff who are snooty and rude, which seems to appeal to a high-end consumer, but stores that cater to the rest of us have sales staff who are gently solicitous and know how to subtly upsell. Maybe they amble by and sweetly ask if you’re finding everything you need. Or they offer to take some things to the dressing room for you and are on-hand to bring you other sizes when something doesn’t fit. They chat with you like you are a friend and throw in a “personal” anecdote, which makes you feel more comfortable. When they suggest companion items, you will likely be more receptive. There’s nothing wrong with good sales help, so soak it in. Just be careful not to blow your budget on all the extras they suggest.
5. Good deals. Retailers use all sorts of pricing tactics to make you think you’re getting a good deal, and to incentivize you to buy more. You know you’ve bought five pairs of socks for $5, assuming that the deal applies only if you buy all five. Often, the sales price applies to a single item, and you don’t need to buy the listed quantity to get the discount. And did you ever buy a less expensive item that is placed next to a similar, more expensive item because you thought you were getting a great deal? Maybe the deal is great, but look around at other comparable items or use a price-comparison site, such as Price Grabber or Nextag, on your phone to compare.
6. Make yourself at home. Many stores offer seating, so that you can take a break between aisles, or so your bored spouse has a place to sit while you shop. The trick: That seating that allows you to spend more time in the store is also luring you to buy more at your leisure. If you are rushing because your legs hurt, or if your spouse is getting impatient, you’ll probably buy less. Get too comfortable, you’ll buy more.
Enjoy all the deals, the pleasant smells and the friendly staff, but keep your wits about you.
Originally posted on USNews.com