The Science of Sales

Store Sales

I’m a bad shopper. I put off going shopping and getting stuff I need. I show up without a shopping list. Then I wander around, and before I know it, I’ve spent a ton of time in Target or Walmart--and have a cart full of stuff! It’s not like I even really like shopping--in fact, I avoid it--but somehow, once I’m in the store, I’m a shopaholic. I know these stores have sneaky ways to making us all buy more stuff than we should, so I thought I’d turn to the experts and ask a little bit about what tricks these stores use--and how I might learn to beat them and save some money!

You’re quite right that big stores like Target and Walmart know a thing or two about convincing you to spend some cash. They see a lot of shoppers come and go every day, and they have a lot of data to use to figure out what sells and what doesn’t. They know how to make a full-priced item look like a steal or how to make a mundane purchase feel thrilling.

And, actually, it’s not just the big stores. The business consultants at Wiss point out that small businesses can replicate some of the advantages of large-scale corporations by turning to outsources solutions and consultants. And experts can specialize in things like displays: for instance, the manufacturers at Megawall specialize in plastic slatwall, which businesses small and large can use to hang products on display. Megawall offers specialized displays and could help a local hardware store create a compelling display that wouldn’t look out of place at one of that store’s big-box competitors.

So what are these displays and tricks? Many have to do with how we navigate the store. Take end caps, for instance--those displays on the ends of grocery store aisles. Grocery stores know they’re the most valuable real estate in the store, and they fill them with colorful and enticing displays. If you’re looking for the cheap store-brand version of those chips, you’ll have to hunt down the aisle: the ones they want you to buy are on the end cap. It works: items earn stores nearly a third more when on an end cap!

Another tactic big box stores use is showing us lots of options. Experts say that our minds take that information--”look at all this stuff!”--and conclude that each individual item must be cheap--”what a deal!” Just by showing us tons of items at once, stores can make us think we’re getting a good price.

Clever tricks! So how can you counter them? The answer is to do some things your letter indicates you’re not doing. To ensure that you don’t overspend, you need to have a plan when you walk into the store. That means making a list and sticking to it, experts say, and not getting suckered into purchases you don’t need. If you see something you think you need, think twice. Maybe you can add it to your next shopping list: if you really need it, you’ll know by the next time you go to the store. And maybe, in the meantime, you’ll get it at a different store for less!

We all fall victim to marketing tricks sometimes, and it’s not the end of the world. But your situation sounds extreme, so remember to think about the ways that stores convince you to spend, and try to show up with a plan you can stick to. Your piggy bank will thank you!

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” -- Erna Bombeck

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