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Are you in full control of your senses when you go shopping, making rational and intelligent purchasing decisions as you go? Of course, we all think that’s what we do, which is exactly what retail companies would like us to think. It’s not so much Big Brother, more like clever marketing, subliminal messaging and neuroscience. In a continuous attempt to increase profits, retail companies are devising ever smarter ways to stay one step ahead of consumer behaviour.

Retail selling techniques

In this way, even the savviest shopper can be routinely ‘led astray’ into spending more money than he’d originally planned. None of us is immune to it, and here is how it works:

Sales and discount offers

If there’s a sale on, there’s bound to be bargains to be had, right? Wrong. There may well be some in-store reductions, but big bold SALE posters are a tried and tested method to entice more customers into the store, where more often than not they will buy non-sale items.

If you are tempted by an ‘unbeatable bargain’ or a time limited special offer, be aware that you are being encouraged to make an impulse buy, not a well considered purchase decision.

Multi-buys

Multi-buy offers sound like a good deal, but often that’s simply not the case. Some offers don’t offer any savings at all – 2 for £2 when the individual item price is £1?! It’s been known for some multi-buys to actually be more expensive than buying items individually. They rely on the fact that we don’t check prices, simply assuming that a special deal would automatically be cheaper. Don’t be that person.

But multi-buy or bulk shopping has another sting to it. While these special offers may save you money in the short term, they encourage consumption. After all, if it’s in the fridge or the cupboard it will get eaten, and probably more quickly.

Refund polices

‘Full satisfaction or your money back’ is a common store promise that makes consumers feel safe. So safe, in fact, that it makes you less likely to fully consider the purchase before parting with your money since the risk of making a mistake seems to have been all but removed. If you don’t like it, you can always return it. However, the actual refund procedure is often unbelievably arduous to the point where you may decide it’s just not worth the bother.

Interestingly, some studies have found that the more open ended a store’s refund policy is, the less likely people are to return an item. This has to do with lack of urgency – you can always return it next week or next month, by which time you may have forgotten all about it or found a use for the item after all.

Shopping trolleys

Do you prefer a basket, a small trolley or a large trolley? Have you noticed that it’s hard to find a basket in some stores, and that trolley sizes seem to be getting bigger? Rather than responding to customer demand (which will be the store management’s official line), supermarkets in particular cleverly supply larger shopping trolleys to encourage you to fill up with goodies. The bigger the trolley, the more you tend to buy. Tip: If you’ve only come in for a few essentials, take a basket instead.

Relaxing music

A happy shopper is a spending shopper. Music is used as a background mood lifter, making customers relax and shop at their leisure and – you’ve guessed it – spend more. According to psychologists, the perfect ‘shopping music’ is moderately quiet, slow and leisurely, with a rhythm that’s much slower than our normal heartbeat. Classical music apparently encourages more luxury purchases, while loud music has the ‘negative’ effect of speeding up the store visit.

Sample stations

How nice of the store to offer free samples and let you try before you buy, no? Actually, what this does is to slow you down so the time you spend in-store is increased. What’s more, you try a new product – and may even decide to buy it on impulse or because you somehow feel obligated after tasting a free sample. More ruses to get you to buy stuff that wasn’t on your shopping list to begin with.

Store layout

The dark arts of store layout architecture is well known to retail stores everywhere. Question: Why do you think fragrant flowers, fresh colourful produce and aromatic bakery goods are always positioned near the entrance area? Answer: The welcoming entrance gives a favourable impression of what’s to come, setting the tone for a positive shopping experience. Stimulating our sense of sight, smell and taste activates our salivary glands, which puts us in the mood for food!

Essential items such as dairy and bread are always positioned at the back of the shop, meaning you will have to walk through the entire store to get to them while being tempted to buy other stuff along the way.

Another trick is to display the most expensive (usually branded) products at eye level so they are seen first, and to group together partner products (strawberries and cream, tortillas and salsa dips etc.) to encourage you to buy both.

The checkout area is the most profitable in-store space. Retailers know that customers’ self-discipline is likely to be exhausted by now, and they’re sitting ducks for any last-minute sales techniques while in the checkout queue.

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