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Avoid retailers' spending schemes

October 8, 2011
By Mary Hunt , Times-Republican

I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors -- a basic, friendly, functional place to shop. Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy supermarket complete with mood lighting and cushy chairs.

I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I'm no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end: to get me to spend more of my hard-earned money. Take the "Three for $6!" special of the week. Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark? Before I could wheel away, I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.

That response was no accident. In fact, that's a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more. Retailers spend a lot of money hiring experts and researching ways for us to spend more time and money in their stores. Our defense? Educate ourselves.

1. The Tactic: Beautiful Ambience

Retailers know that as much as 70 percent of all purchases are unplanned. They want you to linger as long as possible, so they create an atmosphere that's inviting. Outsmart it: Don't browse. True needs are not discovered while standing in a store aisle.

2. The Tactic: Carpeting

Have you noticed more stores using carpeting? That's because it can help influence patterns of travel around a store. Carpeting subtly directs you deeper into the store by creating a defined path for you to follow. Outsmart it: Create your own path.

3. The Tactic: Sale Items

We get pulled in by the promise of a sale, but often those sale items aren't as desirable as we thought. But we've already mentally decided to buy, so often we buy something else. Outsmart it: Don't fall in love with the sale item until you've seen it.

4. The Tactic: Strategically Placed Merchandise

Research shows that if you touch something, you're more likely to buy it. That's why stuffed animals and candy are within easy reach of children at the grocery checkout, and soft blankets or cozy sweaters are on low tables at a store's entrance. Outsmart it: Hands off. Don't touch the merchandise unless it's something you've planned to buy.

5. The Tactic: Spacious Shopping Carts

A cart frees you to touch more things. And more room in the cart means more things to buy. Outsmart it: Forget the cart.

6. The Tactic: Cosmetics Near Shoes

Top purchases for female mall shoppers are cosmetics and shoes. Retailers know that while you're waiting to try on shoes, your eyes will wander. While at the cosmetics counter, the more mirrors available the more likely you'll be to buy. Why? Seeing your reflection reminds you just how much you need new lipstick. Outsmart it: Buy the shoes or the lipstick -- but not both.


Mary Hunt is the founder of and author of 18 books, including her best-selling classic "Debt-Proof Living." You can email her at, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, CA 90723. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



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