The science of shopping

The science of shopping

24/08/17 The psychology behind your spending

I’ve been speaking to a few experts recently about the psychology of shopping. No wait! Come back!

I’m talking about the crafty tricks that sales people use to get you to hand over your hard-earned cash. Some of these are quite obvious, like those racks of ‘on offer’ goods that tempt you while you wait at the supermarket checkout. Others are less so.

Ever noticed those signs above the aisles in big supermarkets? You notice them more than you realise. One retailer arranged for their signs in some parts of the shop to subtly wobble. That’s because your eye is drawn to the signs because of the motion and then you find yourself in the aisle where the retailer wants you.

And there’s loads more things that retailers do to get us to splash out.

• Offers sell out quicker if they’re on an emptier shelf – so retailers deliberately don’t fully stock some deals. This is because the suggestion that other people are taking advantage of a good deal that we might miss out on makes us more likely to buy.
• Luxury brands benefit from snooty salespeople. We all hate rude service and rightly shouldn’t put up with it. But with the high-end luxury market, a rather rude or superior salesperson is more likely to get you to spend more, either to compete or to get you to go the full ‘Pretty Woman’
• A little gift means a big reward. Ever wonder why you get those mints with a restaurant bill. Research shows that tips go up by just under 4% with one mint – and up to 20% with two! And if you’re ever given a free sample of a product in a supermarket or shop then walk on by thinking you’ve got a good deal, chances are you’ll spend much more money out of goodwill.

Scary stuff, isn’t it! There’s a huge amount of science that goes in to the way we shop. Some of the methods are as old as time. Any seasoned salesman or woman will tell you that keeping the customer standing during the sales patter will increase the likelihood of a snap decision. While some clothes shops allegedly keep their changing rooms warmer so you linger less and chose quicker.

These are risky tactics though. Getting people to sign up for things quickly without thinking through the options is good for sales in some senses, but it ignores that you have a number of rights when it comes to returning goods – find out more on the Resolver website. Furthermore, if I get hot and bothered in a shop, I’m more likely to walk out, as many of us are.

One of the most successful ways of getting you to spend money is known as ‘anchoring’. This is where an item is sold with a big discount, like, for example, a jumper. If that jumper is originally priced at £120, but reduced by 50% to £60, your mind ‘anchors’ on the original price and the subsequent discount. However, if you saw the same jumper marked up at £60 you might think it’s too expensive to buy and leave it. It’s the illusion of a bargain that gets you to pay way more than you might have ordinarily.

These tactics seem sneaky and underhand, but they work because it’s hard out there on the high street and the retailers need your business. Knowing how the techniques work can make you a much savvier shopper.

And here’s the deal: ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with shops using psychology to sell you stuff. But never forget that the power lies with us. We can always walk away and think about the deal. So, if in doubt, get out!

I’d love to hear your stories of sales tactics. Let me know what you think at or on Twitter or Facebook

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