I went shopping with my 9-year-old son Ariel this week.
Ariel is a clever young man with dark brown eyes and a magnetic smile.
Of my eight children, he’s the one who looks most like me.
Ariel notices fine details, which makes him gifted at drawing. He pays attention to what’s going on around him. And asks lots of questions.
When I was putting my son to sleep Monday night Ariel asked me, “Mommy why don’t stores have windows?”
We’d been in and out of a lot of shops that day. But his question stumped me for a moment.
And when I began describing how the shops are in rows with the walls attached one to the other he stopped me.
“No, no Mommy!”
Ariel really wanted to know why the folks in the shop don’t die from lack of oxygen.
Wow! What a mind!
So we talked about doors opening and closing and letting in air, air conditioners and all the oxygen that’s already in the store even if no one walks in.
And my sweet young man drifted off to sleep. Content.
But not I.
Let’s you and me explore together Ariel’s question a little further – Why don’t shops have windows?
Because the lack of windows disconnects you from the outside world. You don’t notice the passing of time. And the longer you stay inside the store the more likely you are to buy.
And ‘no windows’ is only one of the myriad ways stores use Consumer Psychology to manipulate your mind, influence your buying decisions and encourage you to spend as much as you can.
Here are seven more ways:
1. Fruit and vegetables are placed strategically by the entrance of the supermarket. Your senses are tantalized by colors and smells as you enter. You pick up an apple and examine it, becoming an active participant in the buying process. You turn it over, judging the color and shape. The more you handle the apple, or any other item you pick up, the more likely you are to buy it.
2. Moving through the maze of supermarket aisles, you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourself for choosing carrots and kale – and you’re much more likely to splurge on the not-so-healthy foods and more profitable products, placed at eye level. And if you’re shopping with kids beware: the sugary cereals are at their eye level.
3. Milk and bread are situated all the way on the other side of the supermarket, far from the entrance. And even if you manage to avoid the aisles and walk the perimeter of the store straight to the refrigerator section, you’ll undoubtedly be confronted by displays, often of sale items. You’ll probably pass the bakery section where the smell of fresh bread and croissants entices you. And before you get to the milk, an item (or two or three) that were not on your list found their way into your shopping cart.
4. The layouts of stores and shopping malls impact your spending behavior. Supermarkets and large stores like Costco and Target are designed to disorient and confuse you, and keep you in the store for as long as possible. If you’ve ever shopped in Ikea, you know exactly what I mean.
Sometimes, your favorite supermarket will change the layout. On purpose. To confuse you all over again. So you’ll spend more time and more money in the store.
Finally, tired and a little bit hungry you reach the checkout – where candies, gum and magazines entice you.
Shopping malls are no better. They’re designed to impede quick-in, quick-out shopping trips: children’s stores, women’s shoe stores and women’s clothing stores alternate with each other rather than being grouped together; bathrooms and service kiosks are placed far away from the entrance. Men’s clothing stores are usually located on a different level, opposite kiosks peddling functional gadgets.
Interestingly, my husband and I were recently in a small Jerusalem mall in search of a man’s tie. There was not one men’s store in the mall. Just saying.
5. Retailers manipulate our buying decisions with sight, sound, and scent. We’re drawn to the color red frequently used in SALE signs. And clothing grouped by color is visually appealing.
Soft background music encourages us to linger (and I have no clue why so many retail stores in Israel blare music with a strong beat; it makes me want to run for the hills. But I digress….).
The right odors and fragrances gently diffused in a store can be relaxing, pleasurable and arousing, affecting our mood and buying behavior.
6. Products displayed in not-so-perfect piles. Our brains love order. They don’t want to mess with perfection. But messy piles invite us to touch. We’re more comfortable picking up items that aren’t so neatly displayed. And handling leads to buying.
Personally, when I’m in a clothing store, I much prefer sorting through items on hangers to sifting through shirts neatly folded in piles. I don’t want to mess up the piles. Which is why salespeople are placed strategically to help us.
7. Prices ending in nines. Because even though our rational brain knows that $69.99 is almost the same as $70.00, the part of the brain that responds to emotions – our limbic brain – registers 69.99 as much less expensive.
So, with millions of dollars invested in consumer psychology and carefully designed marketing manipulations, do we even stand a chance? Can we possibly control our spending? Aren’t we doomed before we even start?
Yes. Yes. And No.
The awareness you’ve gained just by reading this article is your number one tool to fight the enemy. Forewarned is forearmed.
7 Ways Consumer Psychology Influences your Spending Decisions
Here are four more ways to prepare yourself before you go shopping:
1. Shop with a list. If you develop the habit of making a list and sticking to it, you will significantly reduce, if not eliminate all together, the number of times you get suckered into unconscious spending. Most of us know about making lists for groceries. Use a list when you shop for clothing, furniture, linens and everything else
2. Leave the credit cards at home. Pay in Cash. Because once the money’s spent, the shopping expedition is over. Using cash only forces you to stick to your list and to shop with discernment.
I know some folks will say “what about reward cards, points and miles?” And I say, the heck with them. Research shows that you are likely to spend 30% to 50% more with credit cards than you will with cash.
If you use cash only, coupled with a solid spending plan, you won’t need reward cards. You’ll have money available to cover your needs, your wants and your desires.
3. Eat before you shop. Keep a drink and snacks in your purse. Your energy usually dwindles about 1 ½ hours into a shopping trip, making it difficult to resist temptation, whining children (with low energy!) and marketing ploys. And more likely you’ll hit the food court.
4. Pause before you purchase. Scan your body. Notice how you’re feeling. Notice your breath. Take time out to ask yourself: Am I tired or low on energy? Is my heart-rate elevated? Is this a conscious spending decision or am I acting subconsciously or emotionally?
Do I really need this item? Or is it a want/desire? Where does the desire sit in my body? Can I breathe through the desire and watch it move through me? What do I really, really need right now?
Conscious spending is a challenge. Our aggressive consumer culture fueled by behavioral psychology and marketing wreak havoc on us. But when give ourselves the gift of time, to pause, breathe and notice what’s going on, both inside of ourselves and outside, we can make different choices. We have the capacity to adopt stronger money habits that help us spend in a conscious, connected and financially sustainable way.
With dearest blessings on your next shopping adventure,
P.S. If you’d like some more great ideas on how you can change the way you do your money, sign up for my FREE 5-Day Mini Money Makeover.