10 Sneaky Gimmicks Stores Use to Get You to Spend More
By Maryalene LaPonsie
Every time you walk into the mall, the grocery store or a big-box retailer, remember it's you against them.
"Them" are the marketers, sales professionals and CEOs who are determined to make you buy more than you planned. They spent $60 billion worldwide in 2013 on market research and business intelligence, all with the goal of putting more money in their coffers. For retailers, their research may include what you buy, when you buy and even what displays catch your eye.
In addition, retailers have an arsenal of sales tactics that may seem silly but serve as heavy-duty artillery when it comes to persuading you to part ways with your money.
1. Free-Shipping Offers
Shopping online is so convenient, but paying for shipping is a real drag. Beyond that, it can be downright expensive at some stores.
Web retailers know that many of us have an aversion to paying shipping costs, so they often offer free-shipping deals. However, these may come with a catch: You have to spend $30, $50, $100 or some other amount to get the free shipping.
How many people have spent precious time searching for extra items to add to their order to reach the amount needed for free shipping? I'll raise my hand and admit to spending an ungodly amount of time looking for a $15 item (that I really didn't need) to add to my $35 purchase in order to get free shipping. In hindsight, I should have stuck with my $35 buy, paid the $5 in shipping and come out $10 ahead.
2. Multiple Purchase Pricing
My go-to grocery store loves to run a 10-for-$10 promotion. Not only are the sale items a mere dollar each, you also get the 11th item free. There are often at least a dozen products included in the sale, and you can mix and match items! How cool is that?
It's awesomely cool for the grocery store when we load up on 11 items we don't need. It's even better when those items regularly sell for $1 or $1.09 anyway.
I'm not saying multiple purchase pricing is always bad. It's just that when we see two-for-$3, four-for-$5 or 10-for-$10 sales, we tend to buy two, four or 10 items even if we only need one.
Case in point: I was recently at the gas station and wanted to buy a 20-ounce pop (or would that be soda?). The bottles were two for $3 or $1.89 each. I only wanted one, but I bought two. Why? Because even though I would be saving $1.11 by purchasing only one, I felt like I would be losing money by giving up the discount on two.
3. BOGO, B1G2 and B2G1 Deals
BOGOs -- that would be buy-one-get-one-free sales for those who don't know -- work similarly to multiple purchase pricing. They entice you to buy more than you normally would.
Now, if you're planning to already make a purchase and the second one is free, by all means, take the freebie. But if you find yourself suddenly justifying the purchase of unneeded new shoes because of a BOGO ad, well, the marketers can pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
B1G2 and B2G1 deals involve, respectively, buying one item and getting two free or buying two items and getting one free. Another common variation involves buying one item and getting the second for half off.
4. Bundled Purchases
Another silly way retailers persuade us to buy more is by bundling purchases. So as part of a special sales bundle, for example, you might get a printer and office software along with a laptop. If you need a printer and software, this could be a cheaper option than buying all three separately.
However, you might have a perfectly good printer at home and maybe you only plan to use the laptop for Facebook (FB) and World of Warcraft. I could be wrong, but I don't think you need Microsoft (MSFT) Excel for either of those things.
Bundling works similarly to multiple purchase pricing and BOGOs. They aren't always bad deals, but they work on the premise we'd be idiots for bypassing them. After all, why wouldn't you want to buy $1,200 worth of computer gear for only $900? I know why. Because if all you need is a $700 laptop, you're $200 poorer for no good reason.
5. Coupon Savings
I love coupons, so I can't advise you to never use them. That said, coupons have a sneaky way of making you buy items you would never purchase at full price, or even sale price.
Witness the disastrous attempt to eliminate coupons and introduce what J.C. Penney (JCP) termed as "fair and square" pricing." Without coupons and deep-discount sales, shoppers stayed away, profits dropped through the floor, and CEO Ron Johnson found himself on the unemployment line.
Bottom line for you: Coupons make it feel like you're getting a deal even if you aren't. Double-check and make sure the after-coupon price is in fact a bargain and don't buy something only because you have a coupon.
6. Sales Events
Let's stay with J.C. Penney for a moment. In addition to dropping coupons, the other big mistake the company made was dropping its many sales events. Those would be the random holiday doorbuster sales and the ads that scream "lowest prices of the season." Apparently, we really like those sales.
But let's not lose our heads. The fact that a store declares a sale is phenomenal does not necessarily mean the sale is phenomenal. In fact, you could walk into a store that has announced sale prices "as much as 70 percent off" and find everything minus one lonely rack is only 20 percent off. It's not false advertising either; the ad clearly includes the qualifier "as much as."
I don't want it to sound as though you shouldn't shop sales. But you should be skeptical of sale claims and don't get caught up in the hype of a supposed once-in-a-lifetime deal. Trust me, there will always be another deal.
7. Rewards Programs and Loyalty Cards
Rewards programs are how retailers get you to keep coming back to their store when you have other options.
Maybe there is a better sale at Kohl's (KSS), but you have a Shop Your Way rewards card so you don't even bother checking Kohl's. You head straight for Sears (SHLD) instead.
It works the same way if you have a loyalty card for a gas station, grocery store or hotel chain. You stop comparison-shopping and simply go to the business offering the rewards. That's good for them, but it could be costly for you.
8. Psychological Pricing
You would think in this day and age that we would be savvy enough to not be tricked by seeing the number 9 at the end of a price. And yet, we continue to think something priced $19.99 is a better deal than an item priced $20.
Known as charm pricing, ending sales tags with a "9" is only one way businesses use psychological pricing to their advantage. They may also trick you into spending more by dropping the dollar sign, putting a per-customer limit on sales and using small type. Who knew we could be so easily manipulated by a price tag?
9. Upselling Everything
The movie "Super Size Me" might have you believe McDonald's was offering to super-size meals in an effort to make us all fat. However, I tend to think the only thing McDonald's was trying to super-size was its bottom line. The now-defunct supersize option was simply McDonald's upselling its meals to make more money.
Whenever you're asked whether you want an extra shot of espresso with your coffee or a bucket rather than a bag of popcorn at the theater, you're being upsold. They ask so casually, too. You almost feel as if they're doing you a favor rather than costing you more money.
In fact, even the language they use is finely tuned to maximize your chances of saying yes. When I worked as a mystery shopper, one specific chain required its workers not to ask "do you want anything else?" but to specifically ask "what else would you like?" By using those words, they created the expectation that you would in fact be buying more.
10. Point-of-Sale Add-Ons
The final seemingly silly sales tactic that drains our wallets are all those point-of-sale add-ons. These are the gum displays by the register, and the nice sales clerk who asks if we'd like to save 25 percent by opening a store credit card. It's the trial-sized lotions and lip balms at the department store checkout counter that make you think, "Wow, my lips are really chapped."
At a gas station in my town, the sales clerks are rather shameless about promoting the monthly candy deal, informing customers they are competing for who can sell the most. That tidbit is followed by an appeal to help the worker out by making a purchase. The only thing missing is some slight whimpering and big puppy dog eyes. I'm sure some heartless folks can say no to this plea for help, but it gets me every time.
Don't feel bad if you're a victim. Sometimes I walk out of the store with so many bags, it seems as though I should head home and fashion myself a dunce cap. But knowledge is power, and knowing retailers' sneaky tricks is the first step to keeping more money in your pocket and out of their registers. Did we cover all tricks? You can share in the comments below. We promise we won't laugh.