15 Tricks Stores Secretly Use to Get You to Spend More Money

Frank from Always Sunny lights cash on fire
Frank from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia lights cash on fire. | FX

Although the holidays are generally the retail sector’s biggest and busiest shopping extravaganza, it’s a year-round business. We’re all buying the latest and greatest gadgets, clothes, video games, and everything else you can think of each season. And the salespeople whose job it is to separate consumers from their money smell blood in the water.
Many clever tactics get you to spend more money. Some of these things consumers are aware of. You notice, for example, when cookies on your browser start populating personalized ads on every website you visit. But others are less obvious. For instance, the way products are arranged in a store can impact your purchasing decisions.
QuickQuid, a U.K.-based financial resource site, detailed some of these tactics. “For centuries, traders and entrepreneurs have developed techniques to get their face-to-face customers spending more than intended, using a combination of science and human insight to get us reaching for our wallets,” according to QuickQuid.
Let’s take a closer look at the 15 tactics retailers use to get you to spend more money. Do you fall for any of these?

1. Free shipping (after a limit is reached)

This one is very common and insidiously simple. Nobody wants to pay for shipping, so it’s easy to talk yourself into spending more (or buying a subscription, such as Amazon Prime) to avoid it. You can dodge these costs by looking for coupons or promo codes or buying in bulk.
Next: Ordering is so easy, maybe too easy?

2. 1-click ordering

Businessman or designer using laptop computer
You can spend a lot of money in just one click. | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

It’s a lot easier to spend money when you don’t need to waste 10 minutes filling out shipping and payment information. Single-click purchasing is common on most big retail websites these days, including Amazon. If you want to slow things down and give yourself more time to digest a prospective purchase, don’t use the one-click ordering feature.
Next: Your email is under attack!

3. Emails and newsletters

man sits at a computer while he works
You might be more prone to spend money if you get an email newsletter. | iStock.com

Advertisers are finding new ways to get your attention, and that includes infiltrating your inbox. Newsletters and marketing emails might offer discounts or special sales, but in the end, their goal is to get you to spend more. And if you like a brand or company, you might find these emails useful. If you’re trying to save money, though, it can hurt. Unsubscribe if you tend to bite.

4. Product suggestions

Customers shop for electronics and other items at a Best Buy
Customers shop for electronics. | Joshua Lott/Getty Images

If you’re buying product A, you can bet from whomever you’re purchasing it will suggest you buy product B to complement it. This is another one of those areas in which a company’s marketing ploys might prove useful to you. But if you’re really trying to save money, you can save those items to a list and give them some more thought before pulling the trigger.

5. Scarcity illusion

Crowds rush into a Wal-Mart store as the doors open
Crowds rush into a Wal-Mart store as the doors open. | Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

We’ve all heard the voice-over on infomercials say, “Don’t wait; call now! Supplies are limited!” That’s artificial scarcity, designed to get you to act. Although you might, in fact, miss out on a product if you dawdle, you can probably still find it at a later time. It’s pretty rare you’ll come across a product that won’t at some point return to stock. It might even be worth waiting until prices go down or a knockoff is introduced.

6. Tracking advertisements

A shopping cart filled with credit cards
Companies will track you to find out what you might purchase. | Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Ever notice how products or services you previously looked at while browsing have a way of following you? Cookies and trackers populate ads in an attempt to pull you back. Clear your cache, and browse in private or incognito mode to avoid them. And this isn’t even touching on the other measures that businesses are using to track customers, including through social media activity and on smartphone apps.

7. Sale banners

Shoppers leave a Best Buy store with a television during a Black Friday sale
Shoppers leave a Best Buy store with a television during a Black Friday sale. | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

As simple as it is, a large banner or display saying “sale” or “clearance” is often enough to get you spending money. It’s a psychological trick. You feel like you’re getting away with a discount, so you’re more willing to spend. Again, if you’re looking for a sale (even if it’s not really a sale), then there’s no harm. But don’t fall for every sign you see. One example is how Macy’s seems to have a “one-day sale” every weekend.

8. Strategic item pricing

Gas prices | Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
Listing expensive items next to cheap items makes the cheap item seem like a deal — even if it’s not. | Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

In some stores and on some websites, you might find Item A next to Item B. The price difference between the two might be astronomical, but that’s the point. It makes one item seem cheaper — like you’re getting a good value. This is known as anchor pricing. It’s most obvious when comparing expensive items, such as electronics. Do some pricing research to see whether you’re being had.

9. Free returns

People at a post office
You might forget to return an unwanted item. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you can return it for free, you have less anxiety about making the initial purchase, right? After all, it’s less risky. So why not buy it and worry about it later? Free returns are another psychological trick meant to help make impulse buys easier. This is yet another feature that can be useful if used responsibly — for example, if you need to order clothes in numerous sizes to find the perfect fit. But be careful with it.

10. Card sign-up bonuses

A customer hands over a credit card
A customer hands over a credit card. | iStock.com

Ever get sick of being asked to sign up for a store credit card? They make it easy by offering all kinds of perks and bonuses when you sign up. It’s not always a bad idea, but you can get hooked on the points and bonus offers and end up spending more than you would have otherwise. It’s similar to those punch cards, where you’d have to buy six sandwiches and then get one free. The same tricks apply.

11. Location-based pricing

The Google Maps app
Prices change based on your location. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For certain products and services, prices change depending on where you are. Uber, hotels, and other businesses use “dynamic pricing,” as it’s often called. To make sure you’re getting a fair price, shop around, do some research, and see what others are paying. Sometimes, you might be able to find a deal. Other times, you might be out of luck and stuck with the price you get.

12. Product arrangement

A full shopping cart
Stores can subconsciously guide you to the products they want you to buy. | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Yes, the physical layout of products in a store or even on a website can induce you to buy. There’s not much you can do, except be aware retailers have a method to the madness. If you’re in a store, be mindful the pricier or high-margin products tend to be placed at eye level on the shelves. That doesn’t mean they’re bad products or you’re getting ripped off. But it is a psychological trick in action.

13. They’ll treat you like family

A car saleswoman butters you up and tries to sell you a Yaris
A car saleswoman might try to butter you up. | iStock.com

We’ve all been in stores where the sales staff was overly friendly. We all like being treated well — as opposed to, say, a trip to Jiffy Lube. But you should realize many salespeople are trained to treat you like they would a family member. If they butter you up enough, you’re more likely to make a purchase. You’d also feel bad if you walked away at the end, leaving that salesperson without a commission, wouldn’t you?

14. Items aren’t priced in whole dollars

People fill their cars at a Chevron service station
People fill their cars at a Chevron service station. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Everywhere you go, you’ll see items priced $X.99 or some similar number. We typically don’t even think about it. Even gas stations do it with gas prices on their signs. (Notice the nine-tenths portion of the price.) You probably had an idea this was some sort of psychological trick to make you think something costs less than it does, and you’re right.

15. Store-branded shopping bags

A cashier hands out free reusable grocery bags at a Whole Foods
A cashier hands out free reusable grocery bags at a Whole Foods. | David McNew/Getty Images

You might own store-branded reusable shopping bags. It’s not a bad idea to have them on hand, but it is yet another ploy to get you to open your wallet. In some stores, such as Whole Foods or Ikea, they’re relatively common. And you shouldn’t necessarily feel like you’re being taken advantage of by purchasing one. But you are branding yourself with a store’s logo and becoming a walking advertisement.
See the report from QuickQuid here.