Sneaky retail tricks that get you spending
Make no mistake, supermarkets and department stores are ruthlessly organised money-generating machines. Find out what they do to make us spend more than we'd planned.
Image: Getty Images
Retailers have ways of making you spend your money. Whether you're on a quick jaunt around your local supermarket or a spending spree on the high street, you're immediately under attack from a barrage of tried and tested psychological weapons.
Supermarkets in particular are masters at subtly persuading you to keep the pounds rolling into their tills. We're not just talking about the three-for-two offers, giant-size shopping trolleys begging to be filled, free samples and friendly shop assistants.
These pale in comparison to the subconscious messages weaved into the design of shops of all shapes and sizes, from the lighting and music to the very specific positioning of the products.
You may well scoff at the suggestion you can be so subtly manipulated, but how many times have you popped to the shops for something specific only to return home laden with shopping bags?
That's the ruthless science of retail psychology in action. We reveal some of the sneakiest tricks.
The shop entrance
Prime retail territory doesn't get any better than the ground floor of department stores in city centres. It's the area all shoppers have to pass through as they wander in through the doors and is usually home to the most profitable goods: perfume, jewellery, make-up and gifts.
And there's usually a small army of sales people on hand to tempt you with generous squirts of the latest fragrances and offers of free makeovers: the longer they can get you to linger, the more likely you are to buy.
Some shops also employ people to stand by the door offering a friendly welcome. This may help to boost sales but it's also to deter shoplifters on the basis that it's harder to steal from nice people.
Putting essentials at the back
This old chestnut involves placing so-called 'destination goods' such as bread and milk at the back - and frequently in the middle - of the shop.
This makes you run the gauntlet of premium goods - the clothes, gadgets and gifts which have a high mark-up - and hopefully distracts you from the original point of your visit.
In contrast, supermarkets usually house their fresh fruit and vegetables at the entrance, helping to give the store a fresh, wholesome image. The psychology doesn't end there: people who buy the healthy stuff at the start feel less guilty when they reach for the biscuits later.
Many shops are also laid out by price, with the expensive items at the start and the cheapest at the end. This will essentially make the goods seem better value as you work your way through. Shoppers are also more likely to snap up lower-cost accessories if they've already splashed out on a big purchase.
Irrational pricing subtly leads us into thinking we are spending far less than we actually are. Looking at a £3.99 price tag, your brain immediately focuses on the first digit; it takes a moment longer to round the price up to £4. With so many prices and products vying for your attention, this first digit becomes all important.
Supermarkets are particularly cunning at placing the object they want you to buy directly in front of your nose. The average shopper taking a stroll down the aisle has, at the very least, a mental list of what they want to buy but our gaze often only strays as far as the shelves that are level with our eyes.
This is where the shops cleverly place their premium goods, which help them to boost their multi-million-pound profits each year. Many shoppers grab these as impulse buys, pulled in by the design of the packaging and the carefully worded description on the packet.
However, if you've got your sights firmly on that value tin of tomatoes you'll usually have to stoop down to ground level - that extra bit of effort required means people are far more likely to trade up than down.
Going the extra aisle
Many supermarkets are well-versed in splitting aisles into two and therefore doubling the number of aisle ends where the special offers and the most profitable impulse buys can be placed.
The supermarkets have bulk-bought the special offer goods for a much lower price than normal so stand to make good profits even by selling them off at cheaper prices.
Some retail psychologists believe it's best to be at eye level and on the right-hand-side of a display because most people are right-handed and most people's eyes drift rightwards.
In contrast, the big name brands and most popular items can often be found in the middle of the aisles. This forces shoppers to walk past as many other items as possible regardless of which direction they come from. And products that go together such as pasta and sauce are usually grouped together, giving you a not-so-subtle helping hand in filling up your trolley.
Shoppers are generally creatures of habit - something which retailers have to work hard to overcome if they're going to sell successfully over a wide range of goods. Many therefore opt for store reshuffles, moving products around the store at regular intervals to encourage people to look at new things and hopefully pile them into their basket.
Of course this can be highly irritating if you suddenly find cat food has taken over the spot where the mayonnaise used to be, especially when you're in a rush, but the longer you spend in a store, the more likely you are to buy something.
Point of sale
Shoppers standing like lemmings in a check-out queue are a captive audience. This is where point of sale displays are laden with inexpensive items like chocolate bars and drinks and there are magazines on hand to help alleviate the sense of boredom and frustration - especially if you're shopping with small children who need gentle bribing to behave.
Supermarkets are increasingly using this space to promote their own range of financial products including loans, insurance and savings accounts. If customers already know and trust the brand enough to live off its food, they are more likely to do so with their finances.
Sense of direction
Department stores position escalators to subtly guide you round the store. Whichever direction you go in you usually have to walk half way round the floor to get to the next connecting escalator and so pass by more of the displays en route.
Carpets are also a popular way to subconsciously draw you deeper into the store. Many stores use different colours or patterns to encourage people to take a stroll past a wide range of merchandise.
This sense of tempting shoppers as far into the shop as possible also applies to the location of the changing rooms: these are usually positioned at the back of the store with the added advantage of making it harder for shoplifters to run off in a whole new outfit.
This highly effective sales technique is a firm favourite of department store perfume counters. Essentially it works by drawing your eye to the middle of the shelf where your gaze immediately falls on the biggest, tallest boxes of perfume or other pricey gifts, which are guaranteed to net the store a tidy sum in their mark-up.
The store lures you into going for the most expensive option by surrounding it with smaller size versions of the same product. The idea behind this shelf psychology is that once your eye is led to the most expensive box - which usually is also the best value for the customer thanks to sliding price scales - it's much harder to go for the cheaper bottles.
This means the store parts you from the biggest possible chunk of your cash while you feel like you've got a good deal.
Appearance is everything in the world of retail, so it's essential to get the lighting right. Clothes shops need bright lights to show off the true colours of the clothes. However, wander into the lingerie department and the lighting is a little more subtle to make people feel more relaxed.
In supermarkets, fresh fruit and vegetables look best in a natural light although meat and fish can look tired unless they're shown off in a clean white light.
Playing the right music to an unsuspecting audience is a very simple but very effective tactic. Slower music generally causes people to take their time, leading to higher sales volumes in supermarkets and higher alcohol consumption in restaurants.
Clothes stores play the latest chart music to give the impression that their fashion ranges are as up to date as their song choices. Researchers at Leicester University discovered that when a supermarket played French music, sales of French wines climbed. When German folk music was piped through the speakers, shoppers picked up more bottles of German wines.
Retailers have spent millions of pounds on getting their colour schemes right to subtly convince us to part with more cash than we originally intended. Red is a high impact colour associated with bargain prices and as such is frequently used in advertisements and sale banners. It's also a favourite with budget retailers who use it to catch the eyes of passing shoppers.
In contrast, blue has a calming effect and is often associated with trust - and relaxed shoppers tend to linger for longer and therefore spend more cash. Purple is a colour choice usually associated with luxury, making it a popular choice for advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, shades of green makes us think of fresh goods.
Smell has a powerful direct impact on the emotions as it's not filtered out by the brain. Supermarkets have been keen to capitalise on this with the rise of the in-store bakery, where the gentle waft of freshly baked bread stirs up the hunger pangs. After all, hungry shoppers are likely to fill their trolleys a little higher - and buy on impulse.
How true this is. It is fatal when I am asked to pick something up at Sainsbury's. I'll return with a trolley full, convinced I got all the bargains.
They are very good at what they do.
Please note that articles on MSN Money do not constitute regulated financial advice, which recommends a course of action based upon the specifics of your personal circumstances. The articles are intended to provide general personal financial information. We urge you to consult an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) before making any important decisions about your finances. You can search for an IFA in your local area. Any statement regarding financial services products and tax liability is based on legislation and tax practices as at 6 April 2011, which is, of course, subject to change. The value of any tax benefits or reliefs depends upon the individual circumstances of the investor. When investment performance is mentioned you should remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Where products have an underlying investment content, in many cases the value of the investment can fall as well as rise. For with-profit based investments, there is no guarantee as to the level of bonuses that will be declared, if any. Where mortgages or secured loans are explained do remember that your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or other loan secured on it. All mortgages are subject to underwriting, status and are not available to people under the age of 18.
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