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Revealed: The clever tactics stores use to influence customer buying behaviour

We’ve all been there: you nip into your local supermarket for a loaf of bread and somehow leave with three pizzas, a family sized bag of crisps, six bottles of wine and a new car. Budget? Pssssh, what budget? OK, so I may be exaggerating a little, but the point still stands that despite our best intentions we often end up parting with more money than we ever intended to on a more regular basis than we would like to admit.

It will come as no surprise that retailers want you to buy more every time you go shopping - it’s what their business models are based on, after all. More than 50 per cent of Britons admit to making impulse purchases every time they shop, whilst the practice contributes an incredible $4bn in sales to the US economy every year. In other words, your lack of self control is big business - and where there is money, there is generally someone pulling the puppet strings. Our most loved and trusted retail brands are routinely employing a whole raft of sneaky measures to influence customer buying behaviour. But how many have you fallen victim to?

1. “You deserve this”

You’re trying your very best to eat healthily; you’ve made it all the way around the supermarket without a bar of chocolate falling into your basket and eschewed those delicious smelling chicken wings in favour of a good, solid tuna salad. But as you stand in the queue, looking down with pride at your Instagram-worthy basket, the sugary shortbread slice sitting on the shelves alongside the conveyor belt catches your eye. A little treat won’t hurt will it? Y’know, to reward your determination. Before you know it, it's in the basket too. Well, these shelves are actually known as grab zones and are designed specifically to appeal to humans craving a reward - and you just got caught out. 

Man with basket in supermarket aisle Credit: Getty

2. Your new best friend

No matter how modest we like to think we are, once in a while we all love to be on the receiving end of a compliment. However, it might be worth being wary of that friendly salesperson telling you how great those jeans look, because flattery is the latest weapon in getting you to spend spend spend. Some stores, particularly clothes retailers, now actively train their staff to compliment at least one item in your basket per transaction. It’s not just words that they use either, various brands have also been accused of adding inches to their clothing to convince you that you’re a size smaller than you really are. I blame the grab aisle!

Woman tries on yellow dress Credit: Getty

3. Special sale tags

Have you ever noticed that sale signs are always red or yellow? Funnily enough, that’s not a coincidence. Colours have been shown to elicit different emotions with blue shown to inspire trust, yellow to boost optimism and red to stir excitement. Add the fact that the fact that red is the easiest colour for the human eye to pick out (and the instant gratification that comes from grabbing a bargain) and you’ve got a recipe for some impulsive spending. In fact, a study by MIT has shown that the same items sold 17 per cent more units when marked with a brightly coloured SALE ticket, despite the price being exactly the same.

Sale tag on red blouse Credit: Getty

4. Setting the mood

Flattering lights, mellow music, warm aromas; no, we’re not setting the mood for a romantic night in, but for a spendathon of a shopping trip. Slow music has been proven to slow a shopper’s journey through the store meaning you take in more of the products on offer, whilst warm scents manipulate your perception of wealth and worth. We don't even need to explain the magical allure of the bakery section. Lower lights are used, particularly in clothing stores, to ensure you look your best - or at least, to ensure there’s not enough light to show you at your worst!

Wooden shop interior Credit: Getty

5. The product placement trap

It’s not just the atmosphere of the store, but also the placement of the products that has an impact on whether you’re likely to part with your hard earned cash. Both online and in store, retailers will purposely place a cheaper item next to a more expensive yet comparable one, playing on the consumer’s first instinct to assess the value of the item. Whilst you think you're getting a great deal for basically the same product, you're in fact being tempted into buying the item with the bigger profit margin for the retailer.

Woman looking at jars Credit: Getty

 6. Ditching the signs

It’s frustrating having to spend ages searching for something in a shop, so what if we told you that certain shops purposely get you lost? Robert Price, founder of Price Club, which merged to become Costco, explained that the lack of signs in their store was a conscious choice, deliberately intended to influence customer buying behaviour: “I was adamant that we would not have signs telling people where things were because that would make it likely that they would wander through all the aisles and find other things to buy.”

A man walks through a shop aisle Credit: Getty

7. “You’re in our squad”

Smartphones and widespread internet access have made it easier than ever before to indulge in a little late night impulse shopping, but how do stores retain your loyalty when the internet also gives you instant access to all of their competitors too? The answer: by making you feel like you’re part of something special. It’s easier to feel like your membership is something exclusive when offers intended to empty your wallet are presented as rewards for your perceived relationship, even though millions of other people have exactly the same treats. Shops that reward you for downloading their app take this one step further, by never being more than one tap away they have, quite literally, come into your world.

Woman holding rewards card Credit: Getty

The truth of the matter though, is that no matter how clued up you are about the tactics stores use to influence customer buying behaviour, you'll probably still fall victim to each and every one of these now and again, probably before the week is even out. But hey, at least you'll get to enjoy all those pizzas in your nice new top.