Shopping traps to watch for

The age old and new tactics retailers use to trick us into buying more.



Online only.


I abhor shopping for clothes. That’s probably why I buy most of my clothes in one store. In my hometown of Brighton, there’s a delightful little store called The Dragonfly and they bring in the kind of things I like to wear: soft and comfy, easy to keep (wash and hang) and very, very reasonably priced. I can’t remember shopping in another store in eons.

One of the reasons I avoid shopping so much is that I hate all the tricks retailers employ to separate me from my money. From the sweet smells to the music, retailers aim to turn my senses against me to make me open up my wallet and spend more money.

I’m lucky that I’m what psychologists call a low self-monitor: I don’t care too much about social feedback and tend to shop only to please myself. But I’ve met many the high self-monitor: Prince and princesses who are massively concerned with making an impression and fitting in.

Another nifty trick retailers like to play—particularly on packaged goods—is scrambling your reference point. We usually have a price we expect to pay for something we buy frequently. When a retailer takes the product, leaves the price the same but downsizes the package, they’re messing with your mind.

The latest “trick” retailers have been pulling is the 2-for “deal.” You see, “2 for $5” and you never think to calculate the item’s individual price….you pick up two and head to the check-out. Gotcha! You know you don’t have to buy two, right? You can pick up one and when you check out it’ll be $2.50. And, by the way, is that $2.50 more or less than you’re used to spending on one of those items?

Then there’s the “coupon” offer that you can use on your next visit. Hey, I’ve just bought stuff… you want me to come back and spend more money?

But my absolute favourite is the power of the word “free.” Behavioural economist Dan Ariely tested shoppers with a choice between a free $10 gift certificate or a $20 gift certificate for $7.  Guess which one people swooped up? Yup, free won in the end. And I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve worked with who signed up for a credit card with a killer interest rate because of the “free” T-shirt. Wowza!

3 comments on “Shopping traps to watch for

  1. Rip offs are everywhere!


  2. I agree with that retailer trick of the 2 for $5. There are some places though like London Drugs where you can get $2 for $5 or $2.79 each – a little bit more of an incentive to get two. Sometimes when I'm on the fence about what I'm buying I think actually about the work I have to do in order to have earned that and whether it was a benefit. As an abstract example, suppose I wanted a new food processor for $200. If I was earning $20 an hour after taxes, I figure if owning the thing would save me 10 hours in food prep over the long run or I'd be willing to work 10 hours in order to have it it's worth purchasing.

    With the credit cards, some are ridiculous for any reward you get and some are extremely good. Just remember to treat your credit card as cash and pay off your balance in full every month. There's also no clause saying you have to keep the card indefinitely – you could always get your gift and cancel after 6 months too.


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