Avoid a retail rut, consider shopping backwards for savings

Remember that movie, The Truman Show, where a guy's entire life was secretly filmed and broadcast world wide? In the movie, it was possible to catch Truman's every action on tape because his habits were so predictable.

We think that would never happen to us, but it does. Every day. Retailers have got us pegged. Turns out, according to Envirosell, a New York-based research and consulting firm specializing in studying retail and service environments, as shoppers, we like to enter a store and go to the right -something Envirosell refers to as, "invariant right". We're more likely to reach for products at eye level and most of us are (unconsciously) big fans of symmetry in store layouts. Envirosell has also discovered that consumers prefer a "decompression zone" approximately 12 to 14 feet square, just inside the front door of the store devoid of display or merchandise. All of this adds up to a comfortable, welcoming "feel." Good vibes.

Good vibes mean happy shoppers, more spending and greater profit. Retailers invest a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to help us get our shopping mo-jo on because it pays off.

According to a recent article from Investopedia, Sneaky Strategies that Fuel Overspending by Tara Struyk, "Retailers generally put the most work behind selling items that yield higher returns." Struyk suggests, however, that "if you're shopping for savings, try checking the store's sales items first. In other words, start your shopping at the back of the store and work your way to the front."

Can we turn right first?

I decided to check out the theory on a recent round of errands in Southern California. I figured I would forsake my usual routine and head straight for the "back of the stores" to discover the bonanza of bargains awaiting me.

My first stop immediately presented a problem. In the Target store closest to my home it was not readily apparent where the "back of the store" actually was. I consulted a sales associate and she seemed equally baffled. "What exactly are you looking for?" she asked. I told her I had heard there were good deals and clearance items at the "back of the store."

"Oh, yeah," she responded and directed me to the clearance aisle for toys (I didn't ask for bargains on toys, but was admittedly interested). As I sauntered over in my predictable way, I noticed most departments were set up with clearance and sale racks close to the outer walls. Perhaps at big box stores, the racks farthest from the main aisles are where the deals live.

Next stop, Toys"R"Us. Once inside, I strategically utilized the decompression area to determine the back of the store. A few minutes and several tempting displays later, I arrived at the rear wall. No clearance area. It seems Toys R Us prefers to sprinkle their clearance stickers around. As a result, I found them randomly on many aisles.

My local grocery store, Ralphs, came dangerously close to intruding on my decompression space with a big, summer-themed barbecue display, but I persevered. Since I am a regular, I knew exactly where the "clearance" items were located: at the back of the store, in a cramped hallway by the bathrooms. Lovely.

On my way there, I took note that the price of ketchup at the flashy front-of-the-store display was $1.49. Imagine my surprise when I spotted on the same bottle, same price at the back of the store. If one were shopping for ketchup, this reporter advises, save yourself a few steps and just grab it at the front.

Finally, I arrived at the clearance carts: a pair of sad looking metal shelving units on rollers, crammed in a corner near the men's restroom. Previous visits to the carts have resulted in day-old bakery goods and other intriguing merchandise. Today, however, bargains were not to be. The shelves were haphazardly filled with boxes of Fiber Express and a mash-up of random items: lice killing shampoo, fly swatters, sticky tubes of decorative frosting, dented, unpopular canned goods, items from the toy aisle that had obviously been subjected to on-site consumer testing, and several packages of burger buns. The savings were there, I just didn't need them.

Although the day's shopping did not provide evidence supporting the back of the store theory, I can attest from personal experience it works extremely well in clothing stores. Any shopper worth her name-brand, discounted sandals knows exactly where to find the clearance section. Veteran shoppers who would rather stand partially dressed under fluorescent lighting in front of a three way mirror in a communal changing room than pay full price are aware that the thrill of the hunt lie beyond the seductive displays and the siren call of the latest deliveries. It does, in fact, wait for those savvy, sale-seeking souls who appreciate the magic of a mark down -at the back of the store.

Next time, however, be bold. Veer left as you go.

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