Psychological Tricks Retailers Use to Make You to Spend More – The Importance of Smart Shopping in Today’s Society

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The following is a guest post. Enjoy!

Psychological Tricks Retailers Use to Make You to Spend More – The Importance of Smart Shopping in Today’s Society

The Problem


We have all had the experience of walking into a store to purchase a simple carton of milk and coming out with a shopping cart full of other items! It may be funny when this occurs, but it is not by at all by accident. This is due to the fact that malls and stores alike are deliberately set up to entice you into buying more than you need or want.

This is different than shopping for items online. Take looking around the Internet for a credit card for example. At least when it comes to this exercise, you can research online and spend time finding the most suitable card for you. You can use a reputable and informative site to view a whole range of cards offering low APR, rewards, and cash back features.

On the other hand, malls and stores have spent millions of dollars researching the psychology behind shopping. Everything is done for a purpose, and many of these strategies are subtle but effective. The atmosphere, the lighting, the carpeting, and the shelves are all set out within a store to achieve maximum sales of the most profitable goods and to keep shoppers in the store for longer periods of time.

Strategies Behind Store Layout

Have you ever wondered why the toy departments or washrooms are placed at the back of the store? It is because customers have no choice but to walk through other departments to reach them. In this way, customers are exposed to goods they may not have otherwise seen, and therefore, this creates a sales opportunity. It is a clever and common technique employed by most retailers.

Strategies Behind Shelf Placement

High-priced goods are displayed on shelves which allow easy access, whilst their lower-priced counterparts are placed on lower or higher shelves which are not as convenient. In the busy rush of daily life, consumers will often just reach out and take what is there without seeing the cheaper alternatives.

Some manufacturers pay stores more for their goods to be placed within easy reach. Often time, products will be put in some sort of bin or in a particular area to suggest they are a bargain. Check carefully before trusting that this is true as sometimes it is simply a psychological trick. Many times, the items are reduced, but only minimally.

When purchasing perishable goods especially, think about how long they will last. It can be what is known as a ‘false economy.’ You may save a dollar on fruit in the reduced aisle, but if this has to be eaten within 24 hours, it may not be such a bargain. Check the price against regular fruit that will not spoil so quickly.

Sensory Strategies

Psychological research shows that when shopping, consumers are more likely to purchase an item if they touch it. This is why you will find soft cashmere sweaters near the entrance to a store.

Using a shopping cart frees your hands to touch items, which is when temptation is strongest. If possible, use a basket or at least the smallest size shopping cart. Human beings do not like empty space, so a smaller cart will feel better than a larger one. The risk with this is it looks empty, even when you have many items in there.


The best advice is to prepare a list before entering the shop and stick to it. Don’t be seduced by the sights and smells of the store! Be single-minded and you will save money by shopping smartly.

How about you all? What strategies have you seen that stores/retailers use to get customers to spend more? Have you ever encountered or fallen prey to any of the ones on this list above?

What tips do you have for other readers to avoid these schemes? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • @ Strategies behind store layout – Discussing the intricacies that go in to how a store is laid out is a source of un-ending interest for me!
    • Just off of the top of my head, the store layout strategy that I see most often is placing the milk at the very back corner of the store. This ensures that all customers (since just about everyone in a grocery store needs to buy milk) must first walk through all of the promotion “discount” items throughout the aisles on their way to retrieve their milky-treasure.
  • @ Strategies behind shelf placement – One strategy for product placement on shelves that I see quite often (in addition to placing higher-priced brand name items at eye level) is placing products within one side of the aisle where the highest priced items are on your left and the lower priced items are on your right.
    • My hypothesis is that they think that people are most likely to scan products on an aisle the same way they read a book (left to right). This ensures that people first see the higher priced items, increasing their sale.
    • Any one else seen this?!
  • @ Sensory strategies of cart size – I am definitely guilty of falling prey to this strategy!
    • Whenever I go on one of my big once-a-month food/household items shopping sprees at Wal-Mart, I generally continue to buy food until my shopping cart is full. And, if you’ve been to Wal-Mart recently, you probably know that the shopping carts are BIG!
    • I imagine that if the carts were smaller, I would spend significantly less. Wal-Mart sure has me figured out! 🙂
    • However, since I buy mostly all generic Great Value food/products and will use the food eventually, I consider these “smart” purchases and feel OK spending this money.

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About the Author Jacob A Irwin

Hi folks! My name is Jacob. I am the owner and operator of My Personal Finance Journey. I started this blog in January of 2010 and have enjoyed the journey ever since. Since finishing up graduate school in Virginia in 2014, I have been working in biopharmaceutical development in Colorado. You can read more about me and this site here​. Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Leave a Comment:

Money Cone says July 20, 2011

Don't pick items that are at eye-level, instead pick that are either above or below you. You'll find the items cheaper.
When buying perishables like egg or milk, pick from the back. The ones that are closer have a smaller expiry window.
My recent post Should You Invest In Vanguard Mutual Funds Or ETFs?

    MyPerFinJourney says July 23, 2011

    I definitely agree with the last point Moneycone! The cartons of milk in the front of the row seem to be a day or two older than the ones in the back.
    My recent post Tips on Saving Money for the Future

@60kproject says July 20, 2011

A lot of stores will use the anchoring technique – placing a high priced item next to a similar item so that the lower priced version seems more like a “deal”.

    MyPerFinJourney says July 23, 2011

    I think I've seen this tactic as well 60k! Especially in the vegetable/fruit aisle. You often see the generic cheaper canned veggies right next to the name brand ones.
    My recent post Tips on Saving Money for the Future

krantcents says July 20, 2011

It helps to have a list and stick to it.
My recent post Is Every Smartphone App a Game?

    MyPerFinJourney says July 23, 2011

    Thanks for reading Krantcents!
    My recent post Tips on Saving Money for the Future

Jackie says July 21, 2011

The scheme I most dislike is constantly changing up where things are located within the store. You go in looking for one thing, and naturally notice a lot of other items that you didn't intend to buy. I've taken to just asking a salesperson if I don't find what I'm looking for quickly.
My recent post When You’re Out of Debt

    MyPerFinJourney says July 23, 2011

    Thanks for reading Jackie. I do most of my shopping at Kroger and Wal-Mart Supercenter, and with the exception of seasonal items, it seems like items are always located generally in one place.

    What shops have you experienced the constant turnover of item location at? I'd be interested to see what would that be like! It'd probably drive me crazy!
    My recent post Tips on Saving Money for the Future

Super Frugalette says July 20, 2011

Retailers group things together such as ingredients for a taco. If you aren't watching prices, this grouping could include expensive items. Also “sampling” in grocery stores tends to convert to more sales.

    MyPerFinJourney says July 23, 2011

    Thanks for reading Super Frugalette! I noticed this tactic two weeks ago when I was purchasing the ingredients to make pizza. The grocery store offered many “pizza kits” that were quite a bit more pricey than purchasing the different components separately.
    My recent post Tips on Saving Money for the Future

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